Chicago police officers James Olszanski (left) and Osvaldo Caraballo address a public safety meeting hosted by Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez (right). Credit: 25th Ward Office

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On a gloomy Thursday evening in March, dozens of people gathered inside a film studio in Pilsen to talk about crime in the neighborhood. For the past few months, residents had been complaining about carjackings, catalytic converter thefts, and the slow response from police. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, the 25th Ward alderperson, had organized monthly community meetings to come up with solutions. 

Near the entrance, staffers from the 25th Ward office invited people to fill out a sign-in sheet before taking a seat. The wide-open space was filled with rows of plastic chairs. At the front of the room, a cell phone affixed to a tripod and ring light sat atop a folding table. Speaking to the phone, a staffer reassured those watching through a Facebook livestream that the meeting would begin shortly. 

By 6 PM the room was packed; about 50 people were in attendance. Soft chatter echoed throughout, occasionally broken by the excited outburst of neighbors recognizing each other. To the far left of the room three police officers sat with their arms crossed, talking to one another. 

The meeting began with ward updates: upcoming block club events, new garbage bins, more cops assigned to the neighborhood. Sigcho-Lopez listened attentively from the back. A clinical psychologist from Mount Sinai Hospital talked about mental health services for children experiencing trauma followed by a representative from Big Brothers Big Sisters who shared information about youth mentoring programs. The audience asked few questions.

Then it was time to hear updates from local police. Hands shot up almost immediately. 

“How successful are you in deterring and solving crimes?” one person asked. 

Officer James Olszanski from the 12th district dodged the question and instead pointed to staffing issues; just a few days before the Chicago Tribune reported that the number of police officers who retired in 2021 more than doubled from three years ago because of low morale. But, according to the 25th Ward office, more cops were assigned to Pilsen in February in response to increased violence.

Olszanski also pointed his finger to Cook County state’s attorney Kim Foxx, who campaigned on the promise of prosecuting less cases of low-level offenses. The officers, however, couldn’t give an estimate on how many cases they solve. Last year, the clearance rate across the city dropped to 24 percent. 

“What’s the procedure if the CPD doesn’t show up after a call is made?” another person asked. In the neighborhood Facebook group, residents complained about the long wait times. One person said the average wait time for cops to respond was 30 minutes. Someone else said they waited four hours. 

“Again, there’s just not enough police officers,” Olszanski replied. Officer Osvaldo Caraballo added that sometimes unmarked police cars will respond to incidents, but that residents might not notice them.

A man in the audience asked why the relationship between police and the community had been worsening over the years. “I remember being a young kid in Little Village and knowing all the beat officers by name,” the man said. “Now young kids are telling us how afraid they are of the police.” 

The officers insisted the problems were related to staffing issues—a shortage of beat officers on foot patrol meant residents only interact with police during stressful incidents.

Realtor Miguel Chacon criticized what he saw as a lack of effort at including CPD in public safety meetings. Credit: 25th Ward Office

Then the meeting took a turn. 

“With all due respect to the alderman, it doesn’t seem like there’s any effort to include the police in these meetings,” local realtor Miguel Chacon said. “The community has said that we want the police to be involved in our neighborhood.” 

During a community meeting in December, residents raised concerns that police officers weren’t being invited to community meetings, but Sigcho-Lopez, who had made his way to the front of the room, said they were. The officers clarified that the alderman did invite them to the previous meetings, but that—for reasons related to staffing issues—they couldn’t always attend. 

“I feel like we should name the elephant in the room,” said Aida Flores, former 2019 aldermanic candidate for the 25th Ward. She sat in the second row with pages of notes in hand. 

The elephant being that Sigcho-Lopez is a vocal critic of the police and speaks regularly about reallocating the department’s almost $2 billion budget to fund more community resources, which puts him at odds with residents, like Chacon, who want to see more immediate solutions to crime in the neighborhood in the form of increased police presence.

Behind Chacon were two men in their 30s or 40s wearing dark clothing who didn’t identify themselves. One of them asked Sigcho-Lopez why he was reluctant to work with the police to come up with solutions for crime in the neighborhood. 

“That’s what this meeting is about,” Sigcho-Lopez replied. “We’re trying to form these relationships here.” 

Questions were still pouring in, but not many answers in response. The meeting lasted well over an hour. “We should start wrapping up soon,” Olszanski suggested, right before he was interrupted by a woman sitting in the third row. 

Tanya Lozano (center) addresses the crowd at a Pilsen public safety meeting. Credit: 25th Ward Office

“This happens every single time!” Tanya Lozano yelled. She wore a white and teal plaid coat with matching Jordans. She wore red stop-sign earrings that read “Stop Killing Black People.” 

Lozano is the daughter of Emma Lozano, a local pastor and community activist of the Lincoln United Methodist Church, and niece to Rudy Lozano, a union organizer and former 25th Ward aldermanic candidate who was murdered in his kitchen in 1983 for reasons yet unknown. She runs Healthy Hood Chicago, a dance and fitness studio based in Pilsen. 

“The police always take up 45 minutes of the meeting while the rest of us get the tail end,” she said fiercely as she stood up from her seat and walked to the front. Three young men accompanied her. The police officers made their way back to their seats. 

“Now that you’ve heard from the police and why they’re not the solution, let’s talk about how the community needs to come together,” she said. There were murmurs from the older people in the audience. Chacon and the two men behind him began chuckling. 

“Keep rolling your eyes at me,” Lozano said, looking in the direction of the two men. She then accused them of being off-duty police officers whom she recognized from previous community meetings. 

“That’s none of your business!” Chacon yelled. A staffer reminded Chacon that he needed to respect Lozano, as he had done so for the previous speakers. 

Lozano spoke at length about opportunities for residents to get involved in the community, like participating in peace marches throughout the neighborhood. Next to her was photographer William Guerrero, otherwise known as “The Kid from Pilsen,” who urged more young people to get involved at these meetings.

Two other men spoke, including a local pastor who talked about interfaith dialogue within the community, and another man who talked about local gangs keeping the peace. After another 15 minutes, the meeting ended, almost an hour after it was expected to. 

Afterwards, Lozano says the two men whom she suspected of being off-duty police officers approached her outside the building in an intimidating manner. Update 4/20/22: in an email sent to the Reader after this story was published, Chacon disputed Lozano’s allegation that the men were police officers, and said Lozano approached him and another man after the meeting, not the other way around.

“I told them it was really disrespectful to interrupt me, a woman who’s on the ground doing the work, while I’m presenting,” she told the Reader. “And then one of them said, ‘What does being a woman have to do with any of that?’”

After their conversation, Lozano says the men jumped into a pickup truck with two other men and drove away. 

“I believe, as a community member and activist, that [the meeting] was strategically planned out by the police,” Lozano said.

Michelle Gaona, a Chicago police officer who works in the sixth district and lives in Pilsen, also called the Reader a few days after this story initially appeared online (Editor’s note: this section of the story was added on 4/27/22). Gaona said she hadn’t read the article but had seen an email exchange between the Reader and Chacon, who she “knows on a personal level.” 

Gaona confirmed her attendance at the public safety meeting, adding that she has attended “all the meetings” to date. She said she did not identify herself as an off-duty police officer because she was not representing the department there.

Departmental rules require every member “whether on or off duty, to correctly identify himself by giving his name, rank and star number when so requested by other members of the Department or by a private citizen.” A CPD spokesperson confirmed the rule is in effect whether an officer is on or off duty.

On March 4, Sigcho-Lopez filed a complaint with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) against the off-duty police officers for failing to identify themselves at the previous public safety meetings. COPA referred the complaint to the CPD Bureau of Internal Affairs. 

Gaona said she knows she has a “duty to identify” herself as a police officer, but that she felt unsafe doing so in “a room full of anti-police people.”

She said the off-duty police who have attended public safety meetings are part of the community. She added that her ex-brother-in-law, Raul Antar Mosqueda, a current Chicago Fire Department EMT and former CPD officer, also attended. Mosqueda did not respond to emails from the Reader by press time.

She said she asked the tenth and 12th districts’ aldermanic liaisons if they were invited to the public safety meeting and they said they hadn’t been. She also said she emailed notes she took at the meeting to CAPS officers at the 10th and 12th districts.

As a property owner in Pilsen, Gaona said she is “torn about gentrification” and that “we’re seeing 1990s kind of crime.” She said she wants public safety meetings to be “effective” and for police officers to play a more active role in the community. 

Gaona added that not everything activist Lozano says is accurate. “Nobody is trying to assault or attack her,” she said. 

The next 25th Ward public safety community meeting will be held on April 28 at 6 PM at the Lincoln United Methodist Church.

Editor’s note: a previous version of this story incorrectly stated that a representative from the Office of the Inspector General was expected to attend the April 28th public safety meeting. We regret the error.