By Devin Rose
Crime continues to drop in Oak Park. For the first nine months of this year, crime is down by 16 percent over the same period a year earlier. That was the report Monday evening from Police Chief Rick Tanksley when he spoke at a community forum on crime and safety at village hall. That brings crime levels to their lowest point in the past four years, said Tanksley, and it continues a long term trend that has seen crime in the village decline since its all-time peak in 1982 – 29 years ago.
But at least one resident at the forum convened by the Oak Park village board questioned the accuracy of the crime statistics being reported.
Jack Chalabian told the audience he was concerned about the numbers because they could be adjusted to make them look extraordinary.
"There's still a perception in the community that there's crime," he said. Tanksley was direct in saying there are "no games being played," when it comes to the crime stats. Tanksley presented statistics that crime was down between two and 25 percent in each of the village's eight police beats.
The sparsely attended session on Monday evening in the council chambers at village hall was the first in an occasional series of community forums being planned by the village board in an effort to hear concerns from residents.
Tanksley strongly urged residents to keep calling the police to report any activity that may seem suspicious or out of the ordinary.
Despite the positive statistics, Tanksley and a raft of other top police officials standing with him, told residents to be nosy neighbors, and always call police if they feel unsafe.
Earlier this year, a group of reformed criminals at a similar forum said nosy neighbors were the number one deterrant to crime, Tanksley said. He advised attendees to lock windows and doors, because the longer it takes to get in, the more likely the criminal will get caught. Neighbors looking out for each other goes further than adding more police officers, he said.
Village President David Pope presented crime statistics by category and compared them to county wide crime stats. While the village was about 18 percent lower in murder, more than 90 percent lower in sexual assault and about 70 percent lower in motor vehicle theft, it ranked higher for burglary and theft he said.
Chalabian, the resident who questioned the crime statistics, suggested police officers should come out in the community more often. Cook County Assistant State's Attorney David Potter said he supported the idea. Potter, who is stationed in the state's attorney's satellite office in a storefront on Chicago Avenue near Austin Blvd., said he's walked with police through the community to hear what the issues are.
He encouraged residents to let Cook County board members know the satellite office program is one they should continue to fund. It could face cuts otherwise, Potter said.
Another suggestion came from Alan Hoffstadter, who is retired. He said police could possibly involve other retired residents who are home more often than they used to be to keep an eye on the happenings in their neighborhoods. If they're able to see their neighborhood's ebb and flow, Hoffstadter said, "they'll know when something is out of the ordinary."
Village Trustee Colette Lueck gave the audience another suggestion—be loud. Lueck said she was once in Dominick's on Lake Street and realized she was without her wallet after walking a short distance. She loudly yelled that her wallet was gone, thinking that whoever took it must still be in the store. She then found it—probably dropped by the perpetrator—in the next aisle over.
To discourage crime among young people, Tanksley and resident beat officer Elizabeth Dickson talked about the importance of having positive adult influence from parents or teachers. Tanksley said this could be helpful to combat the problem of high school students selling drugs, which he said was not a recent phenomenon.
Tanksley also mentioned some new initiatives to fight crime, including the Cook County Camera Initiative, which put three cameras along the Green Line el and two on the Blue Line. The CTA also plans to put cameras on every platform and vestibule which can be monitored by police.
The Public Safety Notification System, which Tanksley said is now online, can foster communication between police departments and residents, who can be notified via email, text or voicemail when a police emergency occurs.