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As Chicago Police Pull Downtown Deployment, Concerns About Crime Have River North Restaurant Closing Early

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A River North restaurant owner says he is closing earlier – not because of COVID, but because of crime.

The owner of Bella Luna Bar & Pizza, 731 N. Dearborn St., said people are not coming out late anymore because of issues in the neighborhood – just as Chicago Police announced officers will no longer be stationed across the downtown area like they have been for the last year.

The Chicago Police downtown deployment plan was put into place after two rounds of looting and unrest in and around the downtown area last year. It is moving out effective Tuesday.

The move was news to business owners such as Bella Luna owner Dan Alberga, who said crime is a continued issue in the area.

"It deters people, you know, the people from the suburbs and other people that come down here, because they don't want to deal with the violence," Alberga said.

Bella Luna has been in business at Superior and Dearborn streets since 1988. Customers were grabbing pizzas at Bella Luna long before all the high rises surrounding it went up.

"I used to sit outside here and the furthest building you'd see is Marina City from here to the river. There was nothing here," Alberga said.

But recently, Alberga said the change he has seen in the neighborhood has been for the worse.

"With all the carjackings and shootings and stuff that goes on down here, it's just not safe," he said.

And as to the crime issues nearby, we dug deeper and found Alberga has a point.

According to the numbers Chicago Police report for this district, Robbery, Aggravated Battery, Criminal Sexual Assaults, Theft, and Motor Vehicle Theft are all up in the Near North (18th) District – bounded by Fullerton Avenue, Parkway, and Drive on the north; the Chicago River on the south; Lake Michigan on the east, and the North Branch of the river on the west - since last year.

Theft, specifically, is up almost 300 percent this year, from 13 incidents in 2020 to 51 in 2021. Motor vehicle thefts are up from 23 to 37, and criminal sexual assaults rose from three to six.

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The pandemic has a role in that, but Alberga pointed again to the change for the worse he says he has seen firsthand.

"The majority of our business is earlier now, because of the fact that people don't want to deal with that late-night element and that violence in the city," he said.

And that is why he has changed his hours - closing two hours earlier than they have in their more than 30 years.

"Our business used to thrive after 7, 8 o'clock at night and be busy. Now by 8:30, 9 o'clock, we kind shut it down," he said, "because it's just, once it gets dark out, it's just not safe."

Alberga talked with Molina just hours after police Supt. David Brown addressed concerns about officers leaving the downtown area.

Brown said, "One crime is one too many," and added, "We'll continue to see an increased presence in our downtown."

Alberga said: "We've got to make the city safe. Make the city safe and we'll be fine."

We know the city's new safety plan is the priority heading into the summer, with a focus on community policing in historically violent areas. The downtown area is not one of them.

We doubled back with Chicago Police, asking exactly what an increased presence will look like downtown, now that their deployment plan is over. Molina was told they won't comment on specific deployment details.

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