Local Column

Our view: Improve neighborhood to reduce crime

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DeKalb’s northwest section has a surplus of rental properties, many of which originally were intended to attract college students.

Total enrollment at Northern Illinois University declined more than 6,000 between fall 2006 and fall 2016, and more competition in the rental marketplace has caused more apartments in the area to be leased to people who are not students.

Some of the new tenants are low-income families with children who find themselves living in an area that was not designed to accommodate their needs. The neighborhood lacks nearby grocery stores, neighborhood parks and accommodations for pedestrians. Many properties in the area are aging, and officials said the area has the most property maintenance problems.

This change has created what city officials have called “neighborhood destabilization.”

Police and fire officials said they respond to more calls – including for some juvenile offenders who have been arrested dozens of times – from the city’s northwest side than anywhere else.

The problem is obvious; the solutions less so. City officials want to commission an $83,550 study that will propose ways to make the area better suited to residents.

This seems like a reasonable approach – provided that the study’s suggestions are practical and affordable.

As times change, neighborhoods must change with them. Landlords should not be expected to give up seeking tenants for their properties, and a return to the days of 25,000 enrollment at NIU seems unlikely in the foreseeable future.

It is in the best interest of all stakeholders in the area – city government, property owners and the residents themselves – to work toward making the changes that the neighborhood needs to better accommodate its changing population.

That includes quality-of-life improvements such as parks; safety measures such as adequate lighting and on-property security cameras; and a redoubled effort toward improving the properties in the area, as well as rehabilitating or demolishing those buildings that have been condemned or have sat vacant for years.

Changing the environment can influence behavior and improve lives. People are less likely to commit crimes in areas where they will be seen. Children are less likely to commit crimes when they have something to occupy their time other than the streets.

The city already has taken steps to address crime by tenants. Leases contain a clause that can lead to eviction if people are found committing crimes on the property, for example.

Police know where crime happens. They maintain a consistent presence in the neighborhood. Simply vowing to saturate the area with more cops and arresting more people is likely to inspire resentment.

As DeKalb Police Chief Gene Lowery said at the DeKalb City Council meeting July 25, “We can’t police ourselves out of this problem.”

A better approach is to make changes to the North Annie Glidden corridor that will improve the city as a whole.

City officials should pursue a plan to make the neighborhood safer and more suitable for residents.