Violence in Chicago's Austin neighborhood down compared to last year
CHICAGO - As the city of Chicago grapples with growing gun violence, the latest statistics show the community of Austin is bucking the trend with a decrease in shootings and killings.
Sergeant Servando Velez from the Cook County Sheriff's Office gave FOX 32 a tour of the West Side community. He first pointed out the trouble spots, including streets where drugs dealers hang and blocks caught in a gang war, as we drove through a community often in mourning.
"There are funerals every day unfortunately," said Sgt. Velez.
But Velez also showed us how small actions are part of a bigger plan. As we drove past an elderly man struggling to get inside a car, he asked if the man needed help. Velez explained interactions like that let "regular people know they’re not expendable. There’s people out here that matter."
"There's no magic necessarily to us. It's not like we're the best but when you add more police and more community services, you get positive results," said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.
Dart stations 30 to 100 of his people in Austin each day. Chicago police are still in charge, but the sheriff's department helps and has for more than three years.
"The reality is these are complex issues that require long term strategies," said Dart.
This effort goes beyond patrols and arrests to community engagement. That means throwing a BBQ for the community, helping with a 5k and reading to kids in schools.
"They understand that you care. that you want to work with them, you want to help them and then these barriers start crumbling down," said Dart.
Another barrier buster for Dart is officers on bikes, riding through the neighborhood. Plus, a permanent command post on Chicago Avenue.
The numbers show something is working. Shootings in Austin are down 4.1 percent, compared to this time last year. Murders have decreased 18.6 percent, despite citywide increases.
Rosie Dawson says Austin feels safer and residents prefer talking to sheriff's police than to CPD officers.
"I think they approach you more humanely. You know with a decent conversation versus, I'm in charge," said Dawson, Director of Westside Health Authority.
"It’s my job to more or less humanize everything for everyone and say, you know what, we are part of the community. We are out here looking to make things better for everybody," said Sgt. Velez.
Could this strategy work elsewhere? The sheriff says he doesn't have the resources to try at this point.