By Dan Haley
Late Sunday afternoon I was driving around northeast Oak Park, trying to explain to my wife Mary the finer point of some discussion that had taken place at the office the previous week. Sometimes it is good to just drive and talk. There are no kids in the car. You're not waiting for a commercial to continue the discussion. There are no distractions.
But then there is the police car racing down the side street. And there's the young black boy, maybe 15, absolutely hauling his way back toward Austin Boulevard. All in white. White T-shirt. White shorts. White shoes. If he was on the OPRF track team you'd cheer him because he was so wonderfully graceful and fast. But you know he is not from Oak Park.
Then there was the littler boy. Red-striped T-shirt. Shorts. He was running the other way. North along an Oak Park side street. Calling out for someone he couldn't find. Maybe he was 10.
More police cars arriving at high speed. We see the first police car, now parked, blocking an alley and the officer on foot, pursuing the older kid. There are neighbors pointing toward a back yard.
We end our rubbernecking and head south on Austin, pulling to the curb to allow another Oak Park police car to pass at a good clip on Austin.
"What do you suppose that kid did?" I say. "Whatever it was, he's got most of the police force out looking for him. He must be scared," said Mary.
The police report on Monday had reduced the kids' racing heartbeats and the cops' adrenaline, and the neighbors' rush and worry to a few lines. Three male juveniles, 11, 14 and 16, all from Chicago, stopped by police and charged with a felony burglary. The police had received a call from a neighbor that teens were going into a car on North Harvey. The car was unlocked. Their haul was $3.
Crime is complicated in Oak Park. Kids shouldn't be stealing coins from cars. Presumably they'd have taken a wallet or phone if someone had been dumb enough to leave them there. If it was your car, you'd feel violated knowing strangers had been rifling your things. Neighbors are right to call the cops for any sign of wrongdoing or even the suspicion of a suspicion. We live adjacent to a tough neighborhood in Austin. Austin is filled with great people. And its got its share of trios of youngsters coming into Oak Park looking for bikes and coins and phones.
Monday night the Oak Park police and the village board hosted a session on crime and safety at village hall. Crime is down. Notably down, down over the course of years. That's a credit to our police department and a credit to our neighbors who have made the concept of community policing real. We are watching out. We are aware of our neighbors and neighborhoods. It is working.
The Journal has a new crime reporter. Devin Rose started on Monday and this being neighborhood journalism, she will cover other beats beyond police. But we talked in the afternoon about crime reporting and the topic came up in the session with cops Monday night.
There is an issue about the speed and the proliferation of new media (and social media) and its impact on crime reporting. Oak Park and River Forest police departments are largely transparent in putting out crime reports. They're easy for reporters to get, easy to publish online, and they absolutely drive Web traffic. But does going up every day, multiple times in a day with minor crime reports serve a real function? Or does it inevitably make people feel less safe in a town that statistically is getting safer?
We're wrestling with this. We won't hold back on notable incidents. We'll actively patch together trends and patterns.
But we'll be editors, not just electronic conduits.
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