Updated August 14, 2008, 10:06 p.m.
Photo Gallery: Lofts of Thorn Creek Evictions
Park Forest, IL–(ENEWSPF)– Thirty-four evictions were executed Wednesday morning at residences along Hemlock Street and Western Avenue, beginning with Court H-6, the location of numerous police calls over the past several months, including a recent homicide that still remains unsolved. Deploying a large police presence, the Park Forest Police Department Community Policing Unit and members of the Fugitive and Eviction units of the Cook County Sheriff’s Office initiated what officials are calling a “Crime Free Housing Initiative” in the Lofts of Thorn Creek neighborhood.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart was on the scene, as was Police Chief Tom Fleming, Deputy Chief Robert McNamara, and almost a dozen Park Forest Detectives and officers. The Cook County Sheriff Department sent eight members of their gang unit and approximately 40 members of their eviction unit. Cook County also brought along three K-9 officers trained in narcotics and patrol.
According to Penny Mateck, Press Secretary for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, there were 34 total evictions served. Eight of the units were occupied and 26 were vacant. Five people were arrested: two juveniles were taken into custody and later released to their parents. Three adults, two men and one woman, were each charged with criminal trespass to property.
Property Manager Dinah Gonzales from the Lofts of Thorn Creek assisted police.
Writing in his weekly Manager’s Report, Village Manager Tom Mick said, “The residents were targeted for allowing criminal activity in their units. Also targeted were families that did not pay rent. Some families had allowed others to live in their unit and charged them but did not pay the landlords. The homes were identified by the Police Department’s Troubled Housing Task Force for repeated infractions.”
The large caravan of police vehicles moved from court to court along Hemlock Street throughout the morning, continuing on to Western Avenue as a brief downpour fell.
Kevin Connelly, 1st Assistant to the Chief Deputy Sheriff explained the procedure, “We’re doing 33 evictions today in the 412 units out here. A lot of these units are occupied by squatters and [there have been] neighborhood complaints, management complaints about the activity that’s going on in the vacant units. We’re getting these people out so that management can come in and get good tenants back in these units and try to improve the quality of life of the other people around here.”
Connelly said some residents came out to thank the officers, “One woman said, ‘I can’t go out on my porch at night because of what’s going on across the street.’ It was one of those vacant units where kids just come in and drink and whatever else.”
“We came in knowing there are 70 people in Park Forest with warrants. Thirteen of them have addresses in this complex. We didn’t know coming in who we were going to encounter. We made some arrests. If we find squatters in these units, they’re going to be charged with criminal trespassing.”
Connelly said Sheriff Tom Dart expressed an interest in reviewing Park Forest’s Crime Free Housing Ordinance for adoption by Cook County. “Park Forest has got it,” Connelly said. “This is a great tool to be able to use in a situation like this.”
Sheriff Tom Dart said he received a call from Chief Fleming a few days ago, “He mentioned he had been getting a lot of complaints that have built up over the course of the months about areas where people who have no reason to be in certain complexes and buildings are there, and the amount of complaints he’s been getting from the neighbors who belong there were just increasing.”
Dart said there were numerous issues dealing with quality of life, “It was imperative to try and do something.”
Park Forest Police and the County Sheriff’s Department decided on one date for the mass evictions, “As opposed to coming out here on four different dates,” Dart said, “[Chief Fleming] suggested it would be both more efficient for us but also for the community to understand that we’re very reactive and proactive.”
Dart said they put an operational plan together with the Park Forest Police Department and the Sheriff’s Department working as a team to target homes where there was the most need.
The sheriff also cited positive comments from other neighbors, “The response we’re getting from the people around here has been so positive”
“In a couple of these units they’ve had some incidents with shootings, so, not knowing what we’re getting in to, we brought the gang unit out as well,” Dart said.
Resident Michael Outlaw was pleased “I think it’s good that they’re removing some of the bad element out of the area. Also, some of the rent-paying folk don’t get the benefit of enjoying the environment out here.” Outlaw said the “strong show of force” demonstrated that police were concerned about the upkeep of the community.
Some neighbors would only comment if guaranteed anonymity, given their proximity to some who were evicted. “I think it’s a good job that they’re cleaning up the area around here finally,” said one woman.
Another woman was concerned about the timing of the evictions, “I think it’s a shame that they wait the weekend before school starts, because a lot of these kids live in this area attend the school that I work at. However, at the same time too, I think it’s a good idea to do what they’re doing so that we have a safe community to live in.”
“The timing could have been better, only for the sake of the kids,” said one man. “But I think it’s a good thing to sweep the community. We all want to live in a safe environment. From what I see right now, it’s just unfortunate that the kids have to suffer. But, in order to keep the community clean, certain measures have to be taken, and I guess this is one of them.”
Chief Fleming addressed these concerns, “There’s no good time to evict people. The timing on this was, we were responding to the neighbors’ complaints of the vacant units being used by anonymous people on the weekends for partying, for drinking.”
Fleming cited the “roving groups” of people and recent shootings in the area as well.
“We did it immediately. Every weekend that goes by, we risk another shooting, we risk another homicide. So, really, that’s why: for the quality of life in the community.”
In a release prepared for residents and the media, Police Chief Thomas Fleming credits local residents working with the Community Policing Unit helped identify numerous recent criminal incidents which have detracted from the quality of life in their neighborhood. In addition to the homicide in Court H-6, Fleming notes other issues that have concerned residents, including “strange adults who seem to roam the courts being loud and disruptive, using drugs and alcohol in public spaces.” Fleming also notes recent violent incidents involving the firing of guns. In other cases, residents have complained that gang members or “violent youths” have been living in vacant or abandoned units, even throwing parties which have drawn “unwelcome persons” to the thorn Creek property, according to police.
“Today’s Community Policing objective is to respond to the neighborhood’s demand to secure unoccupied units and remove former residents who have been lawfully evicted by the Cook County Circuit Court,” Fleming said.
The Lofts of Thorn Creek includes 412 rental units. After this morning’s evictions and arrest warrant sweeps, police estimate the rental property will be 70% occupied.
“100% of the remaining residents are members of the Park Forest community who deserve to live in peace and raise their families in a safe neighborhood,” Fleming said.
Photo Gallery: Lofts of Thorn Creek Evictions
Cook County Sheriff’s police prepare to ram a door. (Photo: ENEWSPF)