Commander Speaks Out on Public Safety in Rogers Park
In 2005, Bruce Rottner was appointed the new Commander of the Rogers Park Police District No. 24. With a strong background of service in the district, Commander Rottner is well acquainted with the area's ethnic, racial and economic makeup. So recently The Builder interviewed him, specifically about public safety issues in Rogers Park. The results of that interview follow:
The Builder: How long have you been on the police force?
Rottner: I joined the department about thirty-four-and-a-half years ago as a patrolman.
The Builder: And a good part of that period was spent in Rogers Park, was it not?
Rottner: Correct, I spent about 19 of my 34 years in the 24th district. I was promoted to Captain in August of 2004 and I went to the 23rd district at Addison and Halsted. And on March 9, 2005 I was promoted to Commander of this district.
The Builder: What do you see as the main problems in Rogers Park as far as crime is concerned?
Rottner: Well, Rogers Park is much more diverse than a lot of other districts. And this refers to the racial, economic, ethnic and other factors concerned. Many districts do not have this diversity. We have perhaps the largest Orthodox Jewish community in the city in our district, as well as an increasing Latino population. In terms of policing, it presents a challenge; understanding the different customs of some of our immigrants that move in from a policing standpoint. There are certain cultures where you just don't do certain things. For example, some Asians - Indians especially - will wear turbans. Well, you don't dare take off somebody's turban-that's really a terrible thing to do.
But of course, from the police perspective, you may be looking for weapons, but you just don't do that. We train our officers in all of these different cultural variances. So when they have to deal with some of these things they know what they are dealing with.
Rogers Park today is not the Rogers Park of 30 years ago, obviously. You know, gangs and drugs are always an issue citywide. I don't care what area you live in. The way we deploy our police officers today is a lot smarter than the way we used to do it. Our technology has grown so rapidly in the police department that we are able to project where crime will occur - especially violent crime - shootings, homicides, aggravated batteries - and based on that intelligence, that's how we deploy our manpower.
The inclusion of the cameras that we have in this district, at Morse and Glenwood, Howard and Ashland, and at Howard and Damen. We're using technology right now to monitor those cameras, which have been very well received by the community. There may be some who say that it smacks of big brother, etc., but on the other side of the coin, the public way is the public way. The people want to feel safe out there. And these cameras add to that feeling of safety.
The Builder: Are these cameras located all over the city.
Rottner: They are located everywhere - primarily in the south and west sides. We are the only far north district that has them, but there will undoubtedly be more here and elsewhere, if you look at what the Mayor had to say recently about wanting all businesses to have them. He is very much in favor of the camera program. And now every alderman has been using their menu money to buy two cameras per ward. And I have four aldermen in my district - Joe Moore, Bernie Stone, Pat O'Connor and Mary Ann Smith - so we are working with them to figure out what locations we want to put these cameras in.
We've made several arrests based on what we see in the cameras and several of these were based on what we have seen right here in the station. They are on our computers and they enable us to see what's going on within a 360 degree viewpoint. While they may control crime in the immediate vicinity, we also know that the cameras tend to displace crime and the drugs dealers and purchasers just move a couple of blocks away, out of range of the cameras. But we are aware of that and we have some strategies that we use to defeat that as well. But cameras can't be installed everywhere. For example, we wanted one at Jonquil and Paulina, but north of Howard Street has the new type of light poles, which are very nice, but they won't support a camera. So what we're trying to do is to get a freestanding 27-foot pole to put up to support a camera.
The Builder: We understand that crime has gone down? Is this for Rogers Park or for the entire city?
Rottner: Crime has gone down for the whole city just under ten percent in 2005. Some of our biggest decreases were in auto thefts. We did a real great job in this area. Our armed robberies were actually down. Our homicides were up by one. We had ten homicides last year, but of these, four were gang related. Also this included the shooting by one of our men of an offender who had killed his wife, and slashed his son. The offender in turn was slain by one of our sergeants which was justifiable, otherwise we would have been down one homicide from the previous year. And we just solved the killings of two people at 6151 Winthrop - one guy was captured and the other is being extradited from Mexico. But we still have a couple of cases open that we are working on. But we know who the shooters are. They are part of gang crime.
The Builder: What about drugs? Is this a bigger problem here in Rogers Park than elsewhere?
Rottner: Here's the big difference. In November we just completed "Operation King Snapper" and that was a three-month investigation, across the street from Gale Academy. This was conducted by our narcotics unit and resulted in the identification and arrests of 13 individuals who were major drug sellers. The difference here is that when we do a big operation like this in Rogers Park compared to when they do a similar operation elsewhere, which is just as infested with drugs, a week later these guys are back in business. Here they don't come back. They'll be back eventually when the weather gets better, but it's been highly dry up here north of Howard Street almost two months now. So we have a lot of drug sellers here and a lot of people buying drugs, but it's not as pervasive here as in some other areas of the city. Most of the information we get about drug selling comes from citizens who call us and then we send people out to investigate. Some of our best arrests have come from citizens' tips. So it's more than a matter of good policing. It's really a partnership with the community residents, but there's no substitute for police community involvement here. And there's no substitute for good old-fashioned police work. We identify the sellers, we make controlled buys, we put together a case, sit down with the state's attorney, and warrants are issued. We make a lot of narcotics arrests here, but they are mainly people who are carrying drugs - a bag of weed, some rock, something like that. But the truth is that there's no district that has the financial resources to go after the big, big drug sellers. So when we find someone whom we think is a major player, we call in the narcotics unit, which does have the resources to help us out.