According to the village manager and the police chief (Wednesday Journal, Jan. 18) crime in Oak Park is at its lowest level in 24 years. However, crime has fallen in many areas of Chicago. The important question is how Oak Park crime compares to other or similar cities (of similar size per capita).
Using statistics from Chicago Magazine of October 2005, two crime categories of crime (property and violent) are listed for different population-size cities in the metropolitan area. Using the 50,000 and up population-size category (used by Chicago Magazine for Oak Park) and placing the two categories (violent crime and property crime) on a per capita basis shows rankings for the 19 cities including Oak Park that are grouped in this size category.
In the violent crime per capita category, Oak Park has the fourth highest violent crime per capita of the 19 cities. On a per capita basis, Oak Park’s violent crime is greater than such cities as Berwyn, Aurora, and Waukegan. For the 10 cities with populations closest to Oak Park’s (50,000-65,000), Oak Park’s violent crime per capita and total violent crime are the highest. Oak Park’s total violent crime is 2 1/2 times that of Aurora even though Aurora has almost 2 1/2 times Oak Park’s population. Oak Park has 3 1/2 times the total violent crime as Berwyn.
In the property crime category, Oak Park’s property crime per capita is the third highest of the 19 cities and exceeds that of Joliet, Berwyn, Aurora, and Cicero. Of those cities with populations closest to Oak Park’s (50,000-65,000), Oak Park’s total and per capita property crime is the highest.
One possible explanation for this is that Oak Park spends less on police protection than other similar-size cities, but given Oak Park’s high property tax, this seems unlikely. A comparison of selected police salaries shows that Oak Park pays comparable if not above-competitive rates. For instance, the June 22 Wednesday Journal shows Oak Park’s police chief was paid about $120,000 (without benefits) for 2004, while Berwyn’s new top cop will be making $104,000 (see Chicago Tribune, Jan. 26, 2006). Some uniform police are making about $90,000 without benefits.
Another explanation for Oak Park’s high crime rates is its proximity to the Austin area. This brings in the question of management of police resources. Maybe it would better to have less $90,000 uniform officers and more $45,000 officers patrolling (perhaps on bikes during warm months). Perhaps this would make for a greater police presence, which seems to be a problem with such crimes as bike theft.