‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: Morgan Park

More and more communities are turning to private security to help combat higher crime.

In the Morgan Park community on the city’s far South Side, a new pilot program employs private security guards to watch over local businesses.

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Morgan Park is located just south of Beverly and just north of suburbs like Blue Island on the southern edge of the city. 

Interactive map: More from our community reporting series

It’s not one of the more violent communities in Chicago, but a high-profile murder last week does have the area on edge.

Police are still searching for suspects in the shooting deaths of two young men in Morgan Park, the youngest of which was the brother of Fox News personality Gianno Caldwell.

It’s left the solidly middle-class community unsettled. Gun violence and property crimes have risen in the area in recent years.

It’s a very closely knit neighborhood right next to affluent Beverly. The demographics here are about 60% Black and 30% white.

Because of a rise in property crime especially, the Morgan Park Beverly Hills Business Association has hired private security to patrol the area’s small business districts at certain hours to keep them safe.

“They’re out patrolling various hours through the day and night several nights a week,” said Caroline Connors, executive director of the Morgan Park Beverly Hills Business Association. “They won’t be armed, they won’t be engaging with any sort of criminal activity going on, but just calling 911 and reporting those incidents to the police.”

One beloved local business on Western, Let’s Get Poppin’ gourmet popcorn and dessert shop, has been in business nearly 30 years.

Store manager Larry James says he has employed private security for 22 of those years to make sure residents can pick from more around a dozen tasty varieties of popcorn in peace, and so workers can pop that popcorn safely.

“Cameras, it’s good when you can go back to it, but if you had security, that’s that second effort that they give because they can point that person out,” James said.

The security patrols provided by the local business associations are unarmed and the point is to just have a presence, an extra set of eyes and someone to ultimately call the cops if something happens.

Local 19th Ward Alderman Matt O’Shea said the issue is the attrition of police officers at the Chicago Police Department. He said hundreds have left in the last few weeks and the department is not keeping up with new recruits.

O'Shea recently introduced an ordinance to provide incentives to anyone looking to join the force, hoping to beef up the ranks.

“One: a signing bonus for new recruits to come to the department, $5,000, which hundreds of cities across our country have been doing for a period of time and we’re not. (A) $10,000 bonus for someone with a lateral transfer to the Chicago Police Department … and a $10,000 bonus for first-time home buyers,” O’Shea said.

Video: Watch our full interview with Ald. Matt O'Shea

Despite the recent safety concerns, Morgan Park has a wealth of local public and private institutions that bring neighbors together, including a 6-year-old state-of-the-art park district facility known as the Morgan Park Sports Center. It features one of only a handful of ice rinks in the city and a giant gymnastics center, providing lessons in both these sports for community children who need things to do when school’s not in session.

“It’s where families, friends come together to mingle and meet, as well as to learn and engage with each other,” said Scott Brost of the Morgan Park Sports Center. “We host lots of community events as well as our traditional programming from wellness, figure skating, and gymnastics. This facility is so special to keep kids out of trouble, off the streets and in productive programming throughout the summer.”

Two years ago, Blue Cross Blue Shield opened the Blue Door Neighborhood Center in Morgan Park to provide a place for health education.

The goal was to get community members into wellness and prevention by providing programs in numerous health and fitness areas.

“Diabetes, heart disease, asthma, behavioral health issues like depression, and also nutrition, so access to healthy fruits and vegetables,” said Nicaya Rapier, health educator at the Blue Door Neighborhood Center, as she listed a few of their focuses. “DEEP is a diabetes education empowerment program and it’s an evidence-based six-week program and we walk our participants through how to manage diabetes as well as how to prevent it and it’s open to anyone.”

The center will be hosting a block party for the community in the coming weeks on Saturday, July 16.

Michelle Pressley, CEO & Founder of A Walk of Faith Ministries also recently started her organization during the pandemic. She’s been hosting pop-up food and clothing pantries, and will soon be starting youth guidance classes.

“We’re always looking for epic pop-up partners,” Pressely said. “The sad thing is when you’re driving down the street or near downtown, you see all this homelessness, children that really need things and their parents can’t afford it. Seeing other parents who are addicted and can’t provide for their children how they’d like to … those kinds of situations and my extreme want to reach out and help someone is what helped me start this organization.”

At every pop-up, she says they reach about 100 people, but would like to see that number grow. She is currently looking for more food partners and resources to help expand her reach.

“One person, one neighborhood at a time,” Pressley said. “I know what they’re going through. You look at the similarities in their struggles … there’s help out here. You just have to reach out and grab it. Some people are afraid to pull themselves out. I’m here to offer that help.”

Video: Watch our full interview with Michelle Pressley

Community Reporting Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we’ve been and what we’ve learned by using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in red represent our series COVID-19 Across Chicago; blue marks our series “Chicago Tonight” in Your Neighborhood.

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