Oak Park and River Forest police are urging youthful cyclists to exercise extra caution in the wake of a series of strong-arm robberies the past two weeks in which violence or the threat of violence was used to steal bicycles from kids.
Oak Park police arrested three more Chicago juveniles in relation to two separate robbery incidents last Thursday afternoon, bringing to nine the number apprehended for bike robberies over a 10-day period (see Wednesday Journal web extra on June 12). Two juvenile victims have been punched or struck during robberies, while others were physically thrown off bikes or threatened with harm. In most instances the robberies involved gangs of 3-8 teens.
River Forest, which has had three incidents since May 31, arrested a Maywood teen, June 11, after he grabbed the handle bar of a River Forest boy’s bike at Keystone Park, 7951 Lake St., and ordered him to get off. The intended victim was able to ride away and call 911 on his cellphone. The previous evening a River Forest juvenile was riding a friend’s bike under the train viaduct at Ashland Avenue and Hawthorne when 5-8 older teens confronted him. One grabbed the bike, ordered him off, then rode away on it.
River Forest Deputy Chief Kendra Sullivan said River Forest officers are aware of the incidents and are making extra patrols around Keystone Park. Both Sullivan and Oak Park Police Chief Rick Tanksley said riders should exercise extra caution and common sense. Tanksley provided the following list of suggestions.
Be cautious of strangers to your area. People you don’t know may be looking to steal a bike.
Never let anyone you don’t know take your bike for a ride.
Beware of two people on one bike. One may want your bike.
Try to stay in the company of your friends. There is usually safety in numbers.
Avoid areas that are unfamiliar to you.
Think twice about resisting-your bike can be replaced, you can not.
Trust your instincts; if you feel you are in danger, respond immediately. If you feel someone is going to take your property or harm you, scream for help.
Register your bike with the police department. If it is stolen and recovered, we will have the information to contact the owner.
Never leave your bike unlocked or unattended. Use a heavy lock, such as a case-hardened U-lock that can’t easily be cut. Lock your bike even when it is stored in a closed garage, enclosed porch or basement common area.
Call the police immediately if you see anyone suspicious hanging around a bike rack, in a neighbor’s yard or near a garage.
“Another thing, we tell kids no to riding in the woods because it’s so remote,” said Sullivan.
Both Tanksley and Sullivan stressed that it is better to give up one’s bike than to risk serious injury.
“You can get a new bike. You can’t get a new you,” said Sullivan.
In any event, riders are encouraged to pay close attention to their assailants.
“If someone is confronted, I would advise them to do two things-observe and remember,” said Tanksley. “It greatly helps our efforts in finding and arresting the offender if we have a good description of them, their clothing and their last direction of travel. In both Oak Park robberies last week, he said, “it was the quick and accurate reporting of the crimes and the offenders’ last direction of travel by both the victims and witnesses that enabled police to make swift arrests.”
Tanksley and Sullivan also urge people to report any suspicious behavior immediately.
“Report those kids we see riding two on a bike or loitering in and around our streets, parks and pools,” said Tanksley. “This gives the police a valid reason to stop and talk to these kids. If we can create an atmosphere where every Oak Parker is watchful of what is going on and who is walking our streets and are prepared to call the police, word will quickly make its way back to those who have crime on their minds that if you try something in Oak Park, people will get involved and report you.
Tanksley said he understands that the experience of being a victim of a robbery of any kind stays with a child. “I still remember when my bicycle was taken from me more than 40 years ago and the many thoughts and emotions that went through my mind,” he said.