By Ben Meyerson
As an island between Chicago's West Side and some of the rougher suburbs, Oak Park and River Forest share many of the same problems.
Robbers, thieves and drug dealers often look at the two towns and see only money and victims.
"These criminals don't know boundaries," said River Forest Police Detective Sgt. Marty Grill. "They just know there's a target here, and they do what they want to do."
So River Forest and Oak Park are seeking to move into the 21st century with their crime-fighting techniques, utilizing a free interactive service to track crime on an interactive map across the towns' borders.
It's a fancy new Web 2.0 site called RAIDS, short for Regional Analysis and Information Data Sharing, and River Forest is already using it.
Built on top of Google Maps, River Forest sends a log of significant crimes to RAIDS every day, where it's plotted on a map for everyone, including residents, to see.
Residents can plot different crimes on the map block by block, and can sort through just the date ranges they want to see.
Assaults and burglaries make up the majority of the items that River Forest has reported, since the department is emphasizing only major crimes on the map. A murder, for example, would also show up, as would a sexual assault.
"Sometimes, the fear of crime is worse than crime itself," Grill said. "We have nothing to hide, and I think it's good to let the public know. Let them know that there is crime, and that the police department is doing everything it can to avoid that crime."
Oak Park and Forest Park are also planning to get in on the action, as well as possibly Elmwood Park, as part of a four-town policing cooperative FOREcast.
Once all the towns get up and running, it'll provide a new tool for police, as well, allowing them to track and analyze crime across borders better than they ever have before.
"We trade notes, but it's been informal historically," Grill said of the cooperation between departments. "Automation is the answer to this. Ideally, hopefully soon, I can check out robberies over there. More often than not, there are clusters, although whether they're related or not is a different story."
While River Forest is the only department that's begun using the service right now, Oak Park police Chief Rick Tanksley said his department has already signed a contract with RAIDS and should be online soon.
"We think it's an excellent crime-mapping service," Tanksley said. "We're going to be rolling it out to the community shortly."
Forest Park Police Chief Jim Ryan said he's signed a contract, and his town should have RAIDS available the next couple of weeks as well. Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone has been particularly supportive, Ryan said, and they're hoping to place it prominently on the village's website.
"We have it all up and running, we just have to finalize the upload and the organization," Ryan said. "We chose some of our crimes we want to track, major crimes, frequent crimes where we can develop trends not just between us, but with our neighbors."
In River Forest, Grill is confident that the new analytic tools will change the face of local crime fighting.
"The days of driving around aimlessly in circles are over — or at least I'm doing my part to make sure they are in River Forest," Grill said. "Intelligence-led policing is the future of law enforcement."