CHICAGO — After a string of armed robberies last November, a group of people in Little Village decided they needed to do something.

Community members decided to organize groups of people, in most cases in sizes of 5-7 people, into a citizen patrol who get up in the early hours of the morning to help protect street vendors, who they say are some of Little Villages most vulnerable workers.

WGN’s Erik Runge went for a ride along with the group one chilly March morning.

The driver on that particular morning was Mercedes Alverez, President of Little Village Park.

Alverez started making rounds around 3:30 a.m. near 26th Street and Central Park Avenue, checking in with businesses and knocking on doors to make sure everything is going okay.

While she is not a police officer — Alverez has no formal training — she does know the streets of Little Village and the vendors who work them.

At one of the stops along the way is Rafael Dominguez, who said he has been robbed twice at gunpoint.

“The first time was a gun,” Dominguez said. “The second time was a rifle.”

According to CPD records that span from March 2022 to March of this year, robberies have increased nearly 48%.

CPD statistics don’t break down robberies by occupations specifically victimized in the incidents, but according to those who spoke to WGN that morning, vendors being targeted is a problem.

“It’s better than before, but it’s coming up again,” Dominguez said. “People coming and robbing vendors, we need more patrols.”

CPD declined an on-camera interview, but provided a statement on robberies in Little Village that said:

“To address the recent incidents targeting the street vendor community in the 10th District, we have placed special attention and additional visibility in the affected areas. We will continue to adjust resources as necessary as we work to combat these crimes.”

Chicago Police Department

Kristian Armendariz, who recently ran and lost a bid for Alderman in the 22nd Ward, helped organize the patrol. Armendariz said the group meets monthly with CPD’s 10th District Commander to discuss latest efforts between the two.

According to Angel Valdes, another volunteer on the citizen patrol, it feels like he and others are making a difference, even if it may not be reflected in the latest police statistics.

“what I do is drive by blow the horn and let them know I’m here,” Valdes said. “And they feel more comfortable.”

In the meantime, current 22nd Ward Alderman Michael Rodriguez said he will continue to work with Chicago police and Cook County deputies to increase patrols in the area during times when street vendors are out.

“We’ve worked hard with the uptick here since November,” Rodriguez said. “You know one robbery is too many we are going to keep working until it doesn’t exist in our community.”