Oak Park saw the lowest level of crime in almost 30 years in 2010, according to annual crime stats released by the police department on Friday.
Overall, 1,904 crimes were investigated by local police last year, a 12-percent drop from 2009. Police Chief Rick Tanksley attributed the dip to the willingness of village residents to get involved — reporting suspicious incidents, attending community meetings, etc. — along with aggressive police work. Those efforts included local cops partnering with neighboring towns, following patterns in frequently occurring crimes, and posting officers in certain spots to deter criminals.
Still, there were a handful of serious crimes in Oak Park last year — e.g. the murder of a village resident in his garage before leaving for work, and a purse robber firing a gun at a good Samaritan. But Tanksley said the village hopes to keep communication channels open with the public to assure that perceptions match the reality that crime is declining.
"This is the lowest crime rate in many years, but all it takes is a couple of serious incidents, which will cause people to question their safety," he said, later adding, "This is the lowest crime in 30-odd years. So I think we have to put [these statistics] in perspective."
The most frequent crime in Oak Park last year was theft, with 1,268 incidents, a 5-percent drop from 2009. The second most frequent was burglaries, which dropped by 34 percent from the previous year, to 380.
Police made a concerted effort over the summer to make sure police were in plain sight to help deter crimes such as bicycle thefts, Tanksley said. Local police conducted undercover stings, too, and were able to catch some serial bike thieves.
The number of arrests made by the Oak Park Police Department, 276, dropped by 24 percent last year, which could be partly attributable to the lower incidence of crime. Tanksley, who would like to see that number higher, said it could also be because some criminals were arrested for committing multiple crimes.
About 75 percent of arrests involved the top crimes in the village — burglary and theft.
Juvenile crimes were also fewer in 2010, with arrests down by 17 percent compared to the previous year. Tanksley said that could be attributable to the township's Youth Interventionist Program, along with involvement from teachers and school counselors, too.
A recent and still ongoing survey, conducted by students at the University of Illinois at Chicago, found that 72.5 percent of people who have interacted with the Oak Park Police Department were "very satisfied." That, along with the declining crime rate, made for a solid year for local police, said the chief.
"We can take an aggressive approach toward crime and addressing those quality-of-life issues that we cherish here in Oak Park, but we also do it in a professional manner," Tanksley said.
Village Manager Tom Barwin and President David Pope could not be reached for comment Friday or Monday. But in a village press release, Barwin said the "partnership" between residents and police helped lead to the drop in crimes.
"Oak Park's focus on policing at the neighborhood level has created an effective crime-fighting partnership that is reflected in the data," Barwin said.