Aldermen move to create senior and nursing home ‘safety zones’

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Harrison District Commander Kevin Johnson (left) talks to Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), a former Chicago Police officer, before testifying before a City Council committee Tuesday on a proposed gang loitering ordinance championed by West Side Ald. Jason Ervin (28th). | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Chicago has already created protective bubbles around schools, parks, playgrounds, safe passage routes and mass transit with enhanced penalties for gun offenses and other serious crimes.

Soon, the same security blanket will protect seniors from being, as one aldermen put it, “terrorized in their own communities.”

On Tuesday, the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety approved the ordinance championed by West Side Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), a former Chicago Police officer.

Taliaferro decided to create “senior and nursing home safety zones” after touring senior buildings in his ward last spring and being disgusted by how those elderly residents were forced to live.

“We happened to be … sitting outside enjoying the day when we noticed … young men selling drugs in front of the senior residence. That was … a common thing they had to put up with. … One of the young men — you could clearly see he had a gun on him,” Taliaferro said.

Taliaferro calmly called police and “invited” the seniors to leave the porch and retreat to safety inside. But he came away determined to prevent it from happening again.

“They should not have to deal with this on a daily basis,” he said.

The ordinance approved Tuesday would create a protective bubble within 500 feet of nursing homes and residential buildings “owned or rented for the purpose of providing care for three or more adults” age 55 or older.

Within those boundaries, fines and jail time for possession of an assault weapon, high-capacity magazines, laser sights, silencers and an array of other gun-related offenses and other crimes would be greatly enhanced.

“We’ve enjoyed the benefits from creation of school safety zones. We’ve enjoyed the decreased crime in those areas,” Taliaferro said. “Creating a safety zone in front of our senior residences so they may enjoy a good quality of life where they live would be very important.”

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) couldn’t agreed more.

“Our seniors are terrorized in their own communities. I know some seniors who had to call their neighbor [and say] `Can you watch me as I get out of the car and take my groceries to the house?’” Burnett said.

“No one should live like that. That’s insanity. … They can’t have their grandkids over to play outside. The West Side is totally different than the Gold Coast. On the Gold Coast, you don’t have to worry about that.”

Burnett said he’s trying to “save these kids” involved in criminal activity while simultaneously trying to convince them to “respect the folks in the neighborhoods.”

When it comes down to a choice between the two, Burnett said he sides with the elderly.

“A lot of our seniors have done a lot of things for us to be where we are today. Crossing picket lines. Getting bit by dogs. Getting beat by sticks. Getting discriminated against. And they deserve to live a peaceful life,” he said.

Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) agreed. “Who is it who is going to protect the seniors if we don’t?”

Chicago Police Department Deputy Chief Al Nagode noted that Chicago Police officers recovered over 8,000 guns last year and 1,500 firearms “associated with arrests” already this year.

“We work very closely with our federal partners and our states attorneys office to bring the appropriate charges…[to] go after individuals. Especially when they’re associated with gangs or group activities–whether it’s gangs or drugs around our most vulnerable communities,” Nagode said.

“We would look at these enhanced penalties as another tool in our tool box that’ll help us combat the gun violence that’s occurring in the city.”

Kelley Gandurski, supervising senior counsel for the city’s Law Department, said gun cases are taken “very, very seriously.” Criminal complaints often include a mix of “state and city ordinance charges,” she said.

“Any tool in the tool box to help bring forward charges to get guns off the streets and to prosecute these individuals in a way that’s effective really helps,” Gandurski said.

“More tools in the tool box is very helpful. If state charges aren’t effective, oftentimes city ordinance charges are effective….It’s important that we be able to bring and prosecute as many charges as possible in terms of these offenses.”

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