Hit-and-Run Shakes Longfellow

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The August 13 hit-and-run murder of Evelyn Geng has sparked new debate about the lack of police resources in the Longfellow neighborhood.

The 3rd Precinct will overwhelmingly benefit from an increased police presence, according to Ward 9 Council Member Gary Schiff, referring to the recent proposal made by Mayor R. T. Rybak to hire 71 new police officers by next summer. But the additional officers apparently cannot arrive none too soon, as witnessed by the incident in which Geng was killed after she tried to stop the person who robbed her at the Motomart Station at 33rd and Hiawatha.

The police have arrested three suspects in the case, including the driver of the car that struck and killed Geng. Meanwhile, Schiff and others look at public safety issues and the pattern of crime in the city overall, and the pattern in Longfellow and Nokomis.

“This is a larger area and has a higher need for public safety services,” Schiff said. “It has been more affected by police cuts.”

Schiff said statistics have shown that citywide, there has been more crime but not that many arrests. “This is very distressing,” he noted. “From year to date, arrests are down 16.4 per cent city-wide for crimes against individuals.”

He said arrests for crimes against property are down 8 percent year to date. Schiff said more arrests have been made for arson, but arrests for robbery, burglary and auto theft are down. “This directly speaks to the lack in staffing,” he said.

Schiff said that in the 3rd Precinct, homicide and robbery are both up 10 per cent; larceny crimes are down by 14.5 per cent and auto theft is down 10 per cent. “Arrests for crimes against persons are down 9 percent and arrests for crimes against property are down 31 per cent,” he noted.

“In seizure of weapons, we have had an enormous success in the past year,” he said. “We have collected 132 versus 129 last year in the 3rd precinct; Citywide we have seized 527 this year, compared to 497 last year.”

Schiff said the hot weather also brings an increase in crime. “When it gets hotter, people get cranky and lose their tempers more quickly,” he said. “There are also economic and demographic changes that affect the crime rate, though not so dramatically.”

Schiff said the news about adding new police officers is very welcome, since the current police force is tapped out and exhausted from working overtime and being understaffed. Scott Gerlicher, commander of the 3rd Precinct, agrees with Schiff that there has been a need for more police officers.

“Because of low staffing, the hot weather, people getting out of prison and increased gang activity, we don’t have a handle on it any more,” he commented, referring to the uptick in crime this summer.

He said the largely violent crimes are a result of drug and gang issues, with victims and suspects falling in both groups. “Short-term conflicts have erupted between groups that are at odds with each other,” he added. He also noted that innocent victims have been caught in the crossfire.

“The 3rd precinct has 140 individuals, including supervisors, to work with a population of over 100,000,” he noted.

Schiff said he and City Council Members Sandy Colvin Roy and Barb Johnson thwarted an attempt in 2002 to lay off a dozen police officers and last year fought back again to prevent the loss of seven police jobs to attrition.

“Our community also helps by remembering victims of crime, no matter who they are,” Schiff said.

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