EDITORIAL: Time to revive WhistleSTOP

We are all well aware of the gun and crime problem in Chicago. And we are also aware that it has spread to many unexpected places like last week to Michigan Avenue and Millennium Park.

And we have all noticed the upswing in incidents in the neighborhood.

Most recently an attempted robbery of a University of Chicago student, who was walking on Dorchester Avenue, and before that the attempted robbery of a United States Postal Worker behind Treasure Island on 54th Place and Harper Avenue. Residents have reported home break-ins and in one case a couple was in their home sleeping when a robber broke in. And there were two incidents in Kenwood in the past few weeks.

We have been here before in Hyde Park. Both the South East Chicago Commission and the Hyde Park Kenwood community conference have spent much energy in past years on the issue of safety. In fact the South East Chicago Commission was founded 63 years ago as a crime fighting institution devoted exclusively to making the community safe.

In the past this community took a more vigilant approach in crime prevention and every one joined together to make that happen.

One of the most remarkable of these efforts was the Hyde Park Kenwood Community Conference WhistleSTOP campaign, which started in 1972. It was a brilliant and remarkably simple idea. Members of the community armed themselves with a whistle (Sold by the conference for about $2.00).

When finding one’s self in trouble you blew your whistle. The community heard it and the they responded: blew their whistles, called the police, came to the street, came to your aid and the sound of your whistle scared off your trouble maker.

Did it work? Here is a letter from the Oct 2, 1974 issue of the Herald:

Thanks to WhistleSTOP

I want to express my heartfelt thanks to the people of Hyde Park who have worked to establish the WhistleSTOP program, and to the people who responded to my whistle on September 19 near 55th and Everett.

I was followed into an apartment entry by a man who threatened me with a knife and demanded money. After I gave him the money, I blew my whistle. He fled at the sound and I followed him, blowing the whistle and pointing at him.

The response from nearby citizens was immediate. Someone on the second floor next door looked out the window, and I heard a yell inside to call the police. Soon a second whistle joined me, then several. Other neighbors came into the street, and more called the police. Don Brummett, who deserves some very special thanks, took over the pursuit of my attacker and cornered him as officers E. Evans and E. Trigg of the 21st District arrived to make the arrest on 55th and Hyde Park Blvd. WhistleSTOP works. I strongly urge all Hyde Parkers and incoming students to buy a whistle and carry it always. This system plus the kind of public spirit and concern that helped me can go a long way toward making Hyde Park a place that outlaws avoid.

Kathryn Benese

The Herald has lots of letters like that. The whistle campaign ebbed and flowed like the crime problem. The conference made efforts to revive interest in WhistleSTOP in1980 and again in 1995 and then 2006.

But it should be clear to everyone that the need for a full-scale community whistle campaign is needed now. People should carry them and everyone needs to know what a whistle sound means.

Why the whistle campaign works: it brings the community together to deal with the problem and that togetherness provides community support for the kind of police effort we need with the city and the university police forces.

As we said at the start of this editorial, we have been here before. And in those times we worked together to make the neighborhood safer. We can do that again.

Let’s start with a whistle.