DeKALB – Northern Illinois University student Curtis Baryla, who’s also a membership coordinator for NIU’s chapter of the Sigma Nu fraternity, said Wednesday that his mother had reservations about him attending the university because of local crime issues.
Baryla, who lives in the fraternity’s house in DeKalb’s Annie Glidden North neighborhood, said his mother also gets the same safety bulletin emails that NIU students receive whenever any crime – like several recent shootings in the area – occurs near where he lives.
“So, every now and then, I do get a call early in the morning from her, asking about my safety,” Baryla, an NIU senior, said.
Baryla was one of dozens who attended a community public crime and safety meeting Wednesday evening at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church to address crime and the increased number of shootings in DeKalb, namely in the Annie Glidden North neighborhood. DeKalb Police Chief David Byrd, NIU Police Chief Darren Mitchell and other local community leaders addressed crime- and safety-related concerns from residents and community stakeholders.
In an Aug. 26 New Hope Missionary Baptist Church social media post, meeting organizers wrote that the gathering was meant to have community members “come together and strategize on how to make our community safe.”
NIU student Raaif Majeed, president of NIU’s Sigma Nu fraternity chapter, said safety is one of the main concerns of students involved in Greek life living in the area.
“One of the biggest sororities on campus was telling their story [about how] the women there don’t feel safe enough to live there,” Majeed, also a senior, said. “So if we could increase the security over there and bring back the people that need to live there, that will also bring in revenue and bring in the money and the investments that the community needs. It will open up housing for students and it’s a benefit for everybody that’s involved.”
The Rev. Joe Mitchell, New Hope’s head pastor, previously said he met with the two newer police chiefs in the DeKalb community regarding the recent “uptick of violence,” including shootings in the Annie Glidden North neighborhood.
“We realized a multi-tiered approach was necessary,” Mitchell said. “And this is the first step.”
Mitchell previously said the meeting was meant to allow the two police chiefs to introduce themselves to the community and explain their policing philosophies. However, he said there are “a lot of keyboard commandos” in the community who criticize the city’s crime issues but they “won’t do the work” to help make the community a safer place to live.
“We hope they will get a better understanding as everyday citizens on how they can do their part,” Mitchell said.
Majeed said he wanted to attend Wednesday’s meeting because the Greek community has seen a decline in fraternity and sorority house residency in recent years, citing his fraternity’s house not being filled to capacity.
“And to be able to actively participate in any activity that [can contribute to] any change that we need is really important to us,” Majeed said.
Mitchell previously said it’s important to “look at the root” of concentrated violence, whether it be housing, unemployment, access to jobs with a living wage and food insecurity.
“All of those things need to be analyzed,” Mitchell said.
For example, Mitchell said, elected officials and other community leaders can and should figure out how to make sure warehouse jobs with a living wage on the city’s south side will go to “people who need it the most.” He said next steps in the plan to address the increased crime issues include keeping the community conversations going and “to do our part and take action to make the community better for everyone.”
“This has to be a collaboration,” Mitchell said. “We all live here.”
City of DeKalb officials in attendance, including Mayor Cohen Barnes and City Manager Bill Nicklas, also reviewed actions being taken by the city meant to help improve quality of life in the Annie Glidden North neighborhood especially. That included the DeKalb City Council buying Hunter Properties’ Hunter Hillcrest residential and commercial property for $1.18 million and, before that, a settlement agreement between the two parties approved in April, requiring the local landlord to sell its Hunter Ridgebrook, Hunter Tri-Frat, Lincoln Tower and Hunter Hillcrest properties.
Byrd reiterated his support for the city creating a citizen’s review board for police oversight and pointed to officers recently being outfitted with body cameras. He echoed Mitchell’s previous sentiments about how it will take a community effort to make DeKalb a safer place and told residents “if you see something, say something.”
Byrd said he also is looking to strategically place license plate readers throughout the city and ask landlords to put them in their parking lots “before November.”
“It’s not facial recognition,” Byrd said. “We’re not finding out who’s suspended ... That is not useful. This is only to combat criminal felony that’s coming into the city of DeKalb.”
Majeed said he’s “really optimistic for the future” following Wednesday’s meeting.
“I think that the plans that are put together by university administration, by the city themselves and by [NIU] alumni, by the investors, property owners, everybody coming to the table together, is a great starting point,” Majeed said. “And that’s something we haven’t really seen before in a long time. So that by itself has given us a lot of hope.”