South Loop celebrates National Night Out

By Dan Patton | Managing Editor

Chicago’s 1st Police District, together with representatives of the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) and soldiers from the Illinois National Guard, treated residents from neighborhoods all around the South Loop to a feast of home-grilled fare and a field of confidence-building activities at the 20th annual National Night Out in Cottontail Park on Tuesday August 4th.

The range of attractions was as diverse as the district itself, which stretches from 31st street to Randolph and from the expressway to the lake. Hungry guests lined up for brats and corn on the cob provided by officers who were clearly enjoying their vow to serve and protect. Determined youngsters traversed a rope bridge constructed by CAPS District Advisory Chair Larry Young. Courageous teenagers, parents and cops strapped into harnesses and ascended the 40-foot rock climbing wall that was erected by the Illinois National Guard’s event team.

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Commander Al Nagode, Alderman Pat Dowell and Deputy Chief Eugene Roy

According to 1st District Commander Al Nagode, who has worked in the area for nearly 13 years, National Night Out is a CAPS program that began in 1995 “as an outreach to try to talk about our concerns and celebrate our accomplishments as a community and police working together.”

“It provides a wonderful platform to develop strategies and work on identifying priorities in the neighborhood,” he said. “We address them at the beat level so that we can identify the problems that are important to each individual community. This could be used as an example throughout the whole city.”

Commander Nagote’s efforts are supported by Young, a private citizen who boasted that “I’ve had the privelage of serving five different Commanders, but none better than Commander Nagode.”

Young frequently works with businesses and civilians to make sure that the area’s diversity has a positive impact. “There are about 55,000 university students who come down here on a daily basis,” he said. “We are concerned about the quality of life and, at the same time, making sure that hard crime doesn’t come to the first district.”

The former Eagle Scout also helped to construct the rope bridge and guide children across it. Among those who successfully made it all the way was Zoe Slusher. Her father, Desmond, is a General Electric employee from Belize City. He moved to the South Loop 17 years ago for access to the area’s schools. “With the family and raising the young one,” he explained, “that was the main attraction.”

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Dean Hastings scales the rock climbing wall

The climbing wall was supervised by Sergeant First Class Tony Genovese, a South Loop recruiter who grew up in Naperville and served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. “We have a good relationship with the police force and they asked us to come out here and support,” he said.

SFC Genovese’s assistants estimated that it takes the average person about 20 seconds to get to the top. Among those who climbed that high was Dean Hastings, a Senior at Providence St Mel. “I was thrilled but also slightly nervous” he recalled. “As you go further up, the foot holds are further apart.”

Hastings plans to pursue a college degree in engineering or finance after he graduates. He moved to Printers Row two years ago with his mother, Takula Stanso, a student at the UIC College of Medicine. Like the Shulers, they came for the schools and fell in love with the rest. “It’s really vibrant and really lively,” she said. “There’s a lot of people.”

Although the food ran out about a half hour before the event’s scheduled closing time, it seemed like no one wanted to leave. 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell, who was “born in New York but been here since 1978 — so my roots run deep,” did not seem surprised by the enthusiasm. “You can see there are a number of children out here today,” she said. “It’s the one time people in the community can come together and meet their police officer, Officer Friendly.”

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