With crime surging citywide, residents in one of Chicago’s wealthiest neighborhoods are chipping in to hire private security guards to patrol their 16-square-block section of Lake View a half-mile west of Wrigley Field.
Among those donating to the cause: Cubs President Theo Epstein and his wife.
The Epsteins are among “dozens” of families who have contributed to the Southport Community Alliance, a not-for-profit group formed in June to pay for patrols of homes bounded by West Grace Street, West Roscoe Street, and Southport and Ashland avenues.
Marie Whitney, Epstein’s wife, is one of three directors of the organization, according to state records.
Besides a rise in burglaries and robberies in their neighborhood, the Epsteins understandably have other concerns about safety.
Theo typically walks the nine or so blocks to work at Wrigley Field, according to a recent ESPN The Magazine story. In 2012, a mentally ill Boston-area woman who had developed a fixation on Theo arrived on the Epsteins’ doorstep and chatted up a wary Marie, before heading to the ballpark in search of Theo.
A Cubs spokesman declined to answer questions about the Epsteins’ involvement with the alliance.
Others involved declined to comment on the group’s donors — though the Southport Community Alliance website says it has “over 100 families supporting it.”
At a community meeting Monday to discuss the program and its progress, Epstein was among those in the audience. He told others he’d been impressed with how the program has been working. He told the gathering the motivation for the program was “gunshots.”
“We started to have shell casings on the ground near kids’ bedrooms,” he said, stressing that he was not referring to his family’s home.
Asked after the meeting for further comment, Epstein declined.
In an email to the Sun-Times, Martin Doyle, an attorney who also is listed as a director, noted: “Everyone in the area, whether a donor or not, gets the benefit of the added security from the patrols. There is no minimum donation.”
Doyle added that the neighborhood group wants “to do everything we can to ensure that our neighborhood is safe for the families who live here (our neighborhood has a lot of young children).”
The alliance, Doyle wrote, employs a security company that hires plainclothes, off-duty police officers “in an unmarked car in order to deter crime and report suspicious activity to the on-duty police. Our security patrols are not playing an active law-enforcement role and leave that work to the on-duty police.”
The alliance’s website states that this spring, “dozens of families living near the Southport corridor” formed the group to “address the growing security concerns emerging in their community.”
The Southport Community Alliance website’s introduction is followed by links to headlines about crime, though most of the stories are about incidents in Lake View generally. It’s unclear from the website whether contributions are tax-deductible.
Citywide, murders and shootings are up nearly 50 percent from the same time last year, though few of those shootings took place in Lake View.
The gunfire that has taken place around Wrigley Field, though, has put residents on edge. Those incidents include a big gun battle last December in which some 80 shots rang out just west of the ballpark — and east of the Southport Community Alliance coverage area — near Racine and Patterson.
When the Epsteins moved into their neighborhood in 2012, crimes including burglaries and robberies generally began to decline, bottoming out in 2015.
Such crimes now are on the uptick in the police beat that includes their home, city statistics show. Burglaries are up 90 percent compared to this time last year, from 40 to 76. Robberies have increased 80 percent, from 10 to 18.
“There’s been a more brazen approach (by criminals) than we’ve seen,” Wrigleyville-area Ald. Thomas Tunney (44th) said. “There is a feeling of unease. We deal with it every day.”
Tunney said he has never talked with Epstein’s wife about the alliance.
Doyle, Tunney said, had initially approached him about creating a Special Service Area, a district that would collect a small fee from residents through their property taxes to pay for additional security. Special Service Areas have existed in the city since the 1960s, and residents in the Marquette Park neighborhood have paid $70 to $90 per year since the early 1990s for additional security.
Tunney said he balked at creating an Special Service Area, calling it “a tax on every resident.” He chose instead to lobby for additional police staffing in the 19th District, which he said has added 35 officers.
As for the Southport Community Alliance, he said, its “intentions are well, and it’s privately funded, and that’s fine. But I don’t want my constituents to believe this is a substitute for more resources for the police in the 19th District.”
In another upscale part of the city, the not-for-profit group Gold Coast Neighbors has in recent years paid for overnight security on weekends from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Tax documents filed by the group show it spent $24,820 on “security” in 2014, the most recent year for which records are available.
The patrol cost about $1,800 each weekend for a single officer in a marked vehicle, said Bobby McGuire, owner of Butch McGuire’s and chair of Gold Coast Neighbors’ safety committee. This year, fundraising fell short and patrols stopped a few weeks shy of Labor Day, McGuire said.
Contributing: Stefano Esposito