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After Overnight Spate Of Robberies, Shooting In River North, A Community That Was Already Grappling With Crime Demands Action

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A series of rapid-fire crimes early Thursday struck a community already grappling with a spike in crime as it is.

Overnight, there were three robberies in River North – including one where a man was shot – all within about half an hour. And as CBS 2's Tara Molina reported Thursday evening, all that happened after Chicago Police added extra foot patrols and officers.

The shooting happened at Erie and Franklin streets - under the Chicago Transit Authority Brown and Purple Line 'L' tracks, while two men and a woman were sitting in a parked sport-utility vehicle. Three people got out of a black SUV nearby and announced a robbery.

A 31-year-old man struggled with one of the robbers and was shot in the back. He was hospitalized in fair condition at Rush University Medical Center.

That was 15 minutes before an earlier robbery nearby.

Around 2 a.m. a few blocks away at Erie Street and LaSalle Boulevard, four men got out of a gray SUV and robbed two men at gunpoint. The thieves only got away with an iPhone.

The first robbery took place 15 minutes before that, near the intersection of Ontario and Franklin streets. Three men were walking around 1:45 a.m., when three men with guns got out of a black SUV and stole the victims' phones and wallets.

COVID and crime remain issues citywide. But at this point, a restaurant owner said it is the latter that is affecting business in Chicago.

"We saw a lot of cancellations last week when all this news broke," said Sam Sanchez, owner of Moe's Cantina at 155 W. Kinzie St. "COVID? We have a vaccine. There is no vaccine for crime."

With the recent spike in violent crime in River North, more than 100 concerned residents and business owners showed up for the monthly meeting with Chicago Police at Moe's Cantina on Wednesday.

"This is something that has to be dealt with," Sanchez said.

Police talked about extra patrols at that meeting - more officers walking and biking the neighborhood.

But just hours later, a couple of blocks away, came that spate of robberies that included a shooting.

Police have not confirmed whether the three incidents early Thursday morning are related. But still, more needs to be done, according to a statement from the office of Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd):

"For years, I have been providing CPD with lists of crime and drug hotspots along the State Street and Hubbard Street hospitality corridors downtown. And for years, short lived missions were run in those areas without much impact.

"I am very grateful to our new Commander, Cmdr. Hein of the 18th District, to his command staff and especially to our many hard-working officers for prioritizing these locations. It is my hope that a sustained effort will finally root-out the chronic criminal activity that occurs there.

"Since last weekend, residents and businesses have been excited to see increased police foot patrols and bicycle cops, now on a regular basis. It's already making a difference and their good work is very much appreciated by residents, business owners and, especially, me.

"Unfortunately, early this morning, a robbery crew operating out of an SUV, committed a series of robberies and a shooting in rapid succession, within just a few block radius, over the course of just 16 minutes. Police responded quickly but the vehicle eluded capture.

"I am very glad to know the victim of the shooting is going to recover and I have great confidence that CPD detectives will apprehend these suspects for prosecution."

The spree Thursday isn't the first in River North.

We've tracked a spike in violent crime in the area – which involved a stabbing that killed employee Jessica Vilaythong at the Chase Bank at 600 N. Dearborn St. last week, and two men being beaten and robbed in the middle of State Street the week before.

The most recent numbers from CPD show shootings, aggravated battery, theft, and motor vehicle theft all up in the Near North (18th) Police District – which is bounded by Fullerton Avenue on the north, the Chicago River on the south, Lake Michigan on the east, and the North Branch of the Chicago River on the west.

A day after that safety meeting at Moe's Cantina, and hours after the crimes a couple blocks away, Sanchez said he is hopeful the new police plan works.

"They're promising they're going to clean this city up," he said.

Sanchez said that in the meeting Wednesday, the CPD talked about teams now in place to respond to calls about issues with homeless and possibly mentally ill residents, too.

When asked about the number of officers to be moved to River North, and where they would be sent from, Chicago Police said in a statement, "We do not discuss specific deployment strategies, and there are no updates available at this time."

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