From the day she took office in 2011, Debra Silverstein has presented herself as our very own crime-fighting alderman. She is particularly concerned with property crime, and calls public safety meetings every time there’s an outbreak of graffiti or a rash of stolen bikes. She enjoys being viewed as the law and order alderman. But is this image accurate?
Let’s examine Silverstein’s claims about her influence and activism on issues of public safety as she describes them in her recent newsletter/campaign mailer. Most of her claims are pure malarkey.
We all want to be safe on the streets and in our homes, but heaven help us if public safety is under the direction of a part-time alderman rather than full-time, experienced, highly trained professional police officers. I think we are better served if politicians leave police work to those trained to do it. Silverstein was a CPA and has no background in law enforcement, so her claims that she “organizes” police activities or (her old favorite resurrected on her campaign website) “multi-jurisdictional task forces” are ludicrous. Of course, as alderman she has an interest in the ward’s safety, and I’m sure the police keep her informed of crime rates and trends, but she is not directly involved in determining police strategy and shouldn’t claim otherwise.
She states that she was “…instrumental in organizing the following activities to assist in fighting crime,” and then assumes credit for decisions such as adding more police officers and introducing smart policing technology. These are decisions and actions taken by the commanders of the Chicago Police Department and do not require input from Silverstein.
To begin with, neither more cops nor improved technology were added to the 50th Ward as she states. They were added to the 17th and 24th Police Districts. This is an important distinction because both districts cover more than one ward. Silverstein’s wording suggests that these developments are specific to the 50th Ward and result from her work as alderman. This is not so.
More importantly, police officials direct resources where they are needed. Statistically, West Ridge is one of the safest areas in the City; it, too, covers more than one ward. But Rogers Park, where the 24th District Police are headquartered, experiences more crime than West Ridge. Its activist alderman, Joe Moore, organized the public safety meeting held after the murders of Douglass Watts and Eliyahu Moscowitz in Rogers Park. Police Supt. Eddie Johnson and a host of other police officials discussed the crimes and reassured frightened neighborhood residents.
To respond to fears in the Jewish community that Mr. Moscowitz was targeted because he was Jewish, police officials also held a community meeting in the 50th Ward. But Silverstein did not organize this meeting nor did she “bring” them here. This was a police response to a stunned and grieving community.
What Silverstein did do in the weeks that followed was milk this tragedy for political advantage, appearing at two prayer services, outdoor police roll calls, and, as always, having her picture taken. She attended the funeral for Mr. Moscowitz, and announced with great fanfare that a reward had been offered, addressing neighborhood residents via a series of emails. When the press moved on to other matters, Silverstein lost interest, too. But she has several times used photos of herself taken at the prayer services in her newsletters and on her campaign website. Tacky.
Silverstein’s response to the death of Mr. Moscowitz was very different from her response to two homicides that occurred within three days on Devon Avenue in 2016. The first was a young man shot by an estranged girlfriend. The second was a 19-year-old gang member executed as he sat in a car in a parking lot outside a liquor store less than two blocks from Silverstein’s office. There were no community meetings to discuss public safety, no police officials to reassure frightened people, no alderman to “organize” a response. Instead, Silverstein dismissed both events with a single line in her weekly newsletter, describing the two murders as “some shootings.” Where was her compassion and concern for public safety then?
Silverstein believes that outdoor police roll calls help curb crime. I’ve been unable to find any documented research that this is true. The rationale is that these roll calls enhance police transparency and help build solidarity with the community. That appears to be more PR spin than fact. What it does in the 50th Ward is provide yet another opportunity for an aldermanic photo-op, like the silly shot of Silverstein exchanging a salute with police officers that she’s published in her newsletter.
Devising, improving, or supervising policing strategies are activities outside the scope of Silverstein’s responsibilities as alderman. Her claims of being actively involved in police work and fighting crime are baseless but play well with an audience distracted by photos of her with cops.
Public safety. would be vastly improved if she just did her job and let the police do theirs.