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Bridgeport Citizens Group Puts The Heat On Crime (With A BBQ Grill)

By Kim Bellware in News on Jun 28, 2012 7:00PM

Photo by isawthisthing
Members of the Bridgeport Citizens Group can tell you all about a "bad building." Such buildings dot the Neighborhood of Mayors, and are known among residents as hotbeds for drugs, crime and gang activity.

Nearly two years later, the group is continuing to build participation for an initiative that uses a neighborhood potluck and cookout—strategically set next to "bad buildings"—as a means to chase crime from the neighborhood.

In 2010, a bad building at 3306 S. Lituanica (just around the corner from the Chicago Public Library's Richard J. Daley branch) was drawing the wrong kinds of attention from neighbors. Daniel Pugh, the current director of the BCG, and his wife Lynn Barnett lived on the same block as the house and took note of the frequent fights on the property. In a 2011 interview with Time Out Chicago, Pugh said rival gang members shot at the building at least four different times.

"We got the idea of the smokeout from Alderman (James) Balcer (11th) and the CAPS team at the 9th district," said BCG secretary Barnett via email. She said neighbors complained about the Lituanica building at the monthly CAPS meetings, which prompted a response from Alderman Balcer.

"The Alderman got us to organize the first smokeout that we were involved with in October 2010, right on the corner next to the bad building," said Barnett. "The police came out and did a roll call at 6 p.m., and several stayed around with us while we gathered between 30-40 neighbors over two hours to eat and get to know each other and be a positive presence instead of a negative one on that corner."

Barnett and Pugh brought their grill from a block away for the first Bridgeport Citizens Group Smoke Out. Barnett said the participants are a mix of police, BCG members, sometimes the alderman, neighbors and even "the curious passer-by," usually attracting 40-75 attendees to the hour-long smoke outs.

Bridgeport's community group was modeled after the Canaryville Community Watch, using the two-pronged approach: neighborhood smokeouts near trouble areas, and a neighborhood watch group. "It also brings attention to the area for the other BCG members, so we can help report on problems and try to drive by or watch the area more closely," explained Barnett.

Since the smokeouts began, Pugh and Barnett have said the high crime areas have quieted, and neighbors have become more vigilant. The police have taken notice, too. Tony Mejia, CAPS officer of the 9th District told the Gazette last summer, “This is a way of taking back the streets, block by block. Police can’t do it all as we’re shorthanded as it is. This is a win-win for everyone.”

Now the BCG is aiming for a smokeout about once a month during the summer, targeting areas with highly reported gang and drug activity at the monthly CAPS meetings or through our BCG members.

"The major goal is to get neighbors involved meeting each other," said Barnett. "[We] can work together to address the issues and feel less isolated trying to combat the bad behavior in their area."

The June 29 Smokeout is BCG's 2nd of the season targeting the 3200-3300 blocks of S. Carpenter across from a problematic house, 6 p.m. - 8 p.m.