“Better policing of Madison Street and protecting businesses and residents” is part of Forest Park’s plan to respond to a seeming increase in violence over the past few weeks, according to Mayor Rory Hoskins in a video message to residents on March 25.
The video, posted on the village’s Facebook page, was prompted by the March 24 death of Tony Smith, a resident who was shot by police after allegedly displaying a gun inside and then in front of Jimmy John’s, 350 Circle Ave.
“This young man, Tony Smith, was known to Forest Park police,” Hoskins said. “We regret his loss of life as we regret any loss of life in the village.”
The village last week sent letters to four property owners and the bars which rent the properties labelling them as nuisance properties.
Hoskins mentioned two other recent shootings. The most recent was on March 20 near Harlem Avenue and Circle Avenue, in which the driver of a vehicle was fatally shot by the driver of another vehicle, who has since been caught and is in custody awaiting charges. Hoskins also referred to the incident on Feb. 27 at Madison Street and Lathrop Avenue in which two juveniles were shot, but not killed, in a drive-by shooting.
Hoskins pointed out that although those two particular crimes occurred in Forest Park, none of the victims nor the attackers were from Forest Park.
“So what I’m saying to you is that one of the three recent shootings did involve a Forest Park resident, but it does not seem like there’s any new criminal element specific to Forest Park that is resulting in shootings,” Hoskins said.
He addressed plans village authorities are making to attempt to curb gun violence – and violence in general – in town.
The first part of addressing violence is with “aggressively enforcing local ordinances along Madison Street,” Hoskins said. This involves stopping people for excessive noise, for possession of alcohol on the street, for public intoxication and for public urination.
Hoskins said the village will look into hiring part time police officers to make sure the overnight presence near bars is sufficient. He reminded residents that the Forest Park Police Department is supplemented by the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System (ILEAS), which sends in police personnel from additional communities, including River Forest, Oak Park, Elmwood Park, Berwyn and Maywood to respond to emergencies.
But the village will also crack down on businesses, and landlords of businesses, that are responsible for behavior that violates village code.
According to Village Administrator Tim Gillian a hard look is being taken at current village ordinances and how they can and will be applied in an effort to ensure the safety of residents and decorum in the downtown business district.
There are three ways in which the village plans to keep control of the bars in Forest Park using enforcement of village code.
First, as liquor commissioner, the mayor, has the power to enforce fines or suspend or revoke licenses if a business is in violation of local law.
“We have indicated to the liquor license holders in very strong terms, that they need to better communicate with the Forest Park Police Department,” Hoskins said in his statement. And he urged residents to notify the police department any time they see something that seems or makes them feel unsafe.
Second, the village may decide to take action against properties deemed to be “chronic nuisance properties,” those which within a six-month period have three or more citations for offenses defined as nuisance activity, according to village code.
In cases such as these, the building owner, not just the tenant, will be held responsible for what happens on his or her property. In other words, the property owner, not just a bar owner who may be renting that property, can get in trouble for what happens on the premises.
Chronic nuisance activities include disorderly conduct, public indecency, and illegal consumption or possession of alcohol.
Last week, the village issued letters to four property owners, stating that recent conduct on their properties place them in violation of the village’s Crime Free Property and Nuisance Property Abatement ordinance. In all four cases, the property owner was told that the location is already considered a nuisance property but has not yet reached the level of chronic nuisance property, the level at which, according to the letter, the property owner will begin to receive citations and fines.
The property owners of 7321 Madison St. (location of Forest Park Tap Room), 7445 Randolph St. (location of Pioneer Tap), 7505 Madison St. (location of Slainte) and 7425 Madison St. (location of Shortstop) all received such letters.
Third, and as a quicker way to address more severe issues that may arise, village code also allows for the director of public health and safety or chief of police to suspend any license other than liquor licenses at any time that “there is good cause to believe that either the public health or public safety will be endangered by continuance of any licensed business operation,” according to village code. In such a case, notice of suspension would be given to the business licensee and to the village council. An “immediate emergency hearing by the village council” would be held, and the council would decide the length of suspension and/or revocation of the license.
“We’re going to continue to aggressively patrol Madison Street and the other bars,” Hoskins said in his video message. Part of the focus on patrolling bars is that there have been multiple incidents at them recently, including drinking on the streets, fights, and public urination.
But Hoskins also said that he was informed that on the night Smith was killed, he had been in at least one bar, displaying a handgun. Bar managers kicked Smith out but never called the police to report the incident, which is why, said Hoskins, better communication between bar owners and police is integral.
“We want everyone in Forest Park to feel safe,” Hoskins said. “We want everyone to enjoy a certain quality of life.”