Chicago's 19th District police station officially closing Sunday

Cops bid adieu to their soon-to-be former home as some wonder what the future holds

03/01/2012 6:37 PM

Contributing Reporter

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Chicago Police officers gather at the 19th District police station on Belmont Ave. on Thursday, March 1. The station is being closed March 4. Officers who served time there past and present got together to recollect and pose for a group photograph. Here, James Felton, who has been on the force for 16 years and worked at the 19th District station for two, greets some old colleagues.
Photos by J. GEIL/Photo Editor
Click here for a slideshow with more photos.

A suggestion box sits on the counter at the soon-to-close station. Besides a few pieces of trash, a couple suggestions were indeed offered: "Retire" and "Close the whole city."

Click here to see a map of the new 19th District.

Updated March 7, 1:30 p.m.

Officer Pam Bottoms has covered a beat at the northern edge of the 19th District for the past seven years. She normally starts her early morning shift by looking for criminal activity in areas around the schools, parks and train platforms in the neighborhood.

“I’m pretty much just driving around, looking for problems and then answering problems,” she said. “That’s pretty much all I do, all day long.”

Bottoms, 49, was on furlough — taking a shooter training course — when Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced in October that her station would be closed.

“I hadn’t heard the news or read the newspaper, and then someone asked me about the station closing,” she said. “When I came back everyone was talking about it.”

The 37-year-old building was one of three in the city that were marked for closure as part of a cost-saving initiative led by Mayor Emanuel and Chicago Police Department Superintendent Garry McCarthy.

On Thursday morning, Bottoms, a 21-year veteran with the department, said her goodbyes and exchanged hugs with a few colleagues at the station, located at 2452 W. Belmont Ave.

The 19th District station was slated for closure that weekend, and staff and officers at the facility had gathered in the parking lot to pose for a group photo to memorialize the closing.

Steve Hoffman, an officer with the 19th District’s burglary unit, said he’s worked at the station for ten years.

“It hasn’t felt like all that long,” he said.

Hoffman, like many of the officers from the district, will relocate to the 23rd District’s “Town Hall” station at 850 W. Addison St. in nearby Lake View, which will add the 19th’s turf to its jurisdiction. The 23rd will also be renamed the 19th, and some parts of the shuttered building, such as the lock-up facility, will stay in use for the time being.

But for some, the station on Belmont’s closing marks the end of their tenure with the force.

Tom Giese, an acting desk sergeant at the 19th District facility, plans to retire later this summer. He said his favorite part about working at the station was the sense of camaraderie felt between officers and desk staff alike.

“It was about knowing that you had so many people to back you up,” said Giese, 56. “It’s a brotherhood.”

In October, Emanuel unveiled plans to close the city’s 13th, 19th and 21st District police stations as part of a funding plan to cover a $635.7 million budget deficit.

Emanuel said that the move, along with a host of cuts in other services, would allow the city to make investments in infrastructure, “while creating a $20 million safety net in the City’s Rainy Day fund” that would create revenue without raising sales and property taxes. The entire reorganization of departments would net the city a total of $82 million in savings, according to the mayor’s office.

Some, including leadership from the Fraternal Order of Police, have criticized the consolidation plan, stating that it could jeopardize response times for emergency calls and shrink the number of officers on the streets.

But McCarthy, who took the CPD’s top position June, supported the plan, claiming that the reduction in regional heads would allow the department to create efficiencies by “putting authority in the district commander’s hands and then holding them accountable for what happens,” he said in November.

McCarthy recently said that more than 100 officers will be reassigned to beat patrol assignments in the consolidated districts.

The 19th District’s Hoffman has shuffled police districts before — he was an officer in the 13th District until roughly 10 years ago. But he said the administration hasn’t given the 19th’s personnel much information about the 19th District’s closing, or what assignments the 19th’s cops will get in the new district.

“There haven’t been a lot of answers,” he said.

Seeing the building close was a bittersweet experience, said Giese.

“To me, it’s a shame,” he said. “It’s a great police station, with a lot of history.”

Bottoms said she understood that the administration had to make sacrifices to keep the force financially afloat. She didn’t take personally issue with the decision to close the station, adding that she was just happy to have a job that she loved.

“This is the next chapter of my life,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if I here or there, I’m going to be doing the same job.”

View New Chicago Police 19th District in a larger map

Photos by J. GEIL/Photo Editor

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