Anti-crime initiative, safety message draw neighbors, kids, police
By Dave Gathman firstname.lastname@example.org August 7, 2012 10:34PM
Veda Bergwall(Left), 12, Jacob White(Center), 4, and Lars Bergwall(Right), 9, create gigantic bubbles at Festival Park in Elgin during the National Night Out party held there on Tuesday August 7, 2012. | Katherine Peters~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 9, 2012 6:07AM
If you wanted to talk to a city councilman or the police chief, they were making the rounds. If you were more interested in shaking hands with the McDonald’s Hamburglar or Hubert the BMO Harris Lion, they were there, too.
But as thousands of people celebrated National Night Out at get-togethers Tuesday night all over Elgin, South Elgin, Hampshire, Huntley, Pingree Grove, Sleepy Hollow, St. Charles and Bartlett, everyone’s most important goals were 1.) to get to know their neighbors better and 2.) to talk about what they could do to get crime out of their neighborhoods and keep their children safe.
At Festival Park in downtown Elgin, one get-together was co-hosted by the ROPE (Resident Officers Program in Elgin) officers who live in two of the city’s highest-crime neighborhoods — Officer Robert Engelke from 49 Fremont St. and Officer Shelley Mendiola from 429 Jay St. About 200 people were on hand to ride a kiddie train, jump on two moonwalks, consume SnoCones and hot dogs, and watch the movie “Tintin” on an inflatable screen.
Cherie Aschenbrenner, crime prevention specialist for the Elgin Police Department, said it was one of about 35 National Night Out parties held all over the city between 6 and 8:30 p.m. Other large parties were hosted by ROPE officers on Douglas Avenue, Lawrence Avenue, Oak Street, Vine Street and Joslyn Drive.
On top of that, almost 30 volunteers hosted small-scale block parties all over the city.
Mascots participating in Elgin included Berty, Grimace and Hamburglar from the Bear Family McDonald’s restaurants; Hubert the BMO-Harris Lion; Moose from Nick’s Pizza; Spot the Dog from Country Kennels; and the Weiner Wagon’s Weiner Dog. The mascots, city council members and top police and fire officials divided into eight teams and drove from one party to another, with each task force visiting four events.
Waiting in the SnoCone line at Festival Park, 66-year-old Thelma Young — a retired African-American bus driver and CTA manager who moved from Chicago’s Austin neighborhood to Elgin in 2000 — said she feels safer in Elgin and has little fear about her four children. One, Al Young, became an Elgin police sergeant and in fact was the reason the family moved to Elgin. The others are teenagers.
“They bowl — Dontrelle’s average is 200. We attend Second Baptist Church. I have them mow the lawn. I don’t give them time to get into trouble,” Young said, recalling the old saying that “idle hands are the devil’s playground.”
Mexican-American mom Jane Barbosa, 67, said she grew up in Texas and then Elgin as one of seven children, and “we didn’t have to worry about the police. If we got in trouble, we had Mom and Dad to face. We had to let them know where we would be.
“We used to think they were so strict. But now I’m glad,” Barbosa said.
Her brother, Manuel Barbosa, went on to become a lawyer and judge.
On Shuler Street in the middle of Elgin’s old west side, 35 people attended a block party in the yard of 30-year-old Jeff Meyer and his wife, Courtney. Jeff Meyer said he has lived within three blocks of that location since he was in kindergarten. But one evening just a few weeks ago, he became the eyewitness to a drive-by gang shooting.
While working in his backyard, he heard gunshots. Going to the front yard, he saw a man across the street, in the driveway of the home where one of his best friends had grown up, pointing a pistol at some teenagers who had been walking along the sidewalk. As Meyer watched, the man fired several more shots, got back into a car and drove off.
No one was injured, and three young men were charged with the shooting a few days later.
“But I always feel safe living in this neighborhood,” Meyer said. “That’s partly a function of having neighbors like these who watch out for each other. There’s really not much you can do to stop an isolated incident like that, though the community does have to recognize it has a gang problem and take proactive measures.”
South Elgin chose to have one big celebration, at Concord Park. McGruff, Sparky the fire dog, pirate captain Jack Sparrow, Red from Red Robin and Seymour the South Elgin Park and Rec mascot were expected to join in a “mascot race against crime.” Tammy Town, a traveling training town to promote child safety, allowed kids to drive a Power Wheels police car in scenarios involving stranger danger and child safety.
The South Elgin fire district showed adults and kids alike an emergency smoke house, fire engines and ambulance. A medical transport helicopter was expected to land in the park.