A standing-room-only crowd packed the council chambers at Oak Park Village Hall Thursday night for a meeting with Oak Park police to address a series of carjackings that have taken place in the village over the last year.
The meeting was prompted by three recent incidents – one carjacking in the 700 block of North Harvey Avenue on Dec. 4 and two attempted carjackings in the 700 block of North Lombard Avenue and the 1200 block of North Austin Boulevard, both on Nov. 28.
All three took place in the evening between 5:30 and 6:20 p.m. The attempted carjacking on Lombard drew greater attention because the victim pled with the perpetrators to not drive off with her 3-year-old daughter, who was in the back seat at the time of the attempted carjacking. The two carjackers abandoned the attempt upon learning that a child was in the vehicle.
Oak Park Police Chief Anthony Ambrose acknowledged that residents were concerned about the wave of carjackings this year, noting that he and the police are “frustrated as well.”
“We border the third largest metropolitan area in the country, and violent crime is up nationally this year, and certainly we have our challenges, but we’re prepared to address the challenges,” he said.
Although the most recent carjackings have taken place in northeast Oak Park, Ambrose said the others have taken place all over town, “so it’s not like there’s a pattern,” he said.
Police Commander Roger Grivetti told residents that 16 carjackings have taken place over the course of the year, and police have made eight arrests and brought criminal charges against six individuals.
Grivetti said police took two individuals, both juveniles, into custody who they believe committed the Nov. 28 carjackings, but witnesses could not positively identify them. Those two were handed over to Chicago police the night of the incident and charged with an armed robbery that occurred in Chicago around the time of the two carjacking attempts.
Grivetti said six of the 16 carjacking investigations have been closed as a result of the various arrests, leaving the remaining 10 as open investigations.
He said Oak Park police have been sharing information with police departments surrounding the village.
“It’s kind of been a, I don’t know if I’d say an epidemic, but it has been a very popular crime in the area, not just in Oak Park,” he said. “The city of Chicago has had large numbers of carjackings.”
Grivetti said police believe the cars are largely being stolen by juveniles, under the age of 18, and younger adults for joy rides or to commit other crimes.
“We’re not seeing anything related to … a chop shop where these are high-end cars …” he said. “Most of these cars are being recovered in various locations around the city, so it’s not any … organized model where they’re targeting specific vehicles …”
Detective Sergeant Michael Lepczynski told the group that police are bolstering their efforts with off-duty personnel and resident beat officers and additional resources when possible.
“You will see (an increase in) unmarked vehicles out there … in certain areas,” he said, adding that police cannot publicly share those plans.
Ambrose said the department has hired 10 officers this year and plans to bring an additional six onto the police force in January.
“We have more than enough officers,” he said, while noting that the village does have about 100 miles of roadway and 50 miles of alleys.
“Can I tell you we’re going to have an officer on every block? That’s not going to happen; that’s not realistic,” Ambrose said.
The meeting became heated at points, with residents calling on police to get more information out faster once a crime has been committed. Several residents also argued that lighting in some of the streets and alleys around the village are inadequate and invite criminal activity.
Ambrose said that when a major crime has taken place, the first concern is the safety of the victim. He added that police have to make sure the information is accurate before making it available to the public.
“One thing we don’t want to do is lose an investigation because of the fact that we’re giving out information that can be used against us by defense lawyers,” he said.
He said the police will issue “incident reports” as major crimes occur through OPPD’s Resident Beat Officer program. Resident beat officers will forward the report to residents living in the various zones.
One woman said that waiting a day for a report isn’t fast enough.
“When there’s two attempts in one evening within two blocks of each other, we need to know,” she said.
Another man stated: “We’re looking for a tornado siren. Let us know what’s happening on this block, get inside, get your neighbors inside, turn on your porch lights … so be extra weary right there because it happened twice in the same area.
“We don’t need any information about it; we just want to know, ‘Hey, that was right down the street tonight – stay inside.”
Deputy Police Chief LaDon Reynolds encouraged residents to attend monthly meetings with their resident beat officers and sign up to receive emails about crime in the area.
Ambrose also encouraged residents to call in anything suspicious and contact the watch commander at 708-358-5537, if they have any questions or incidents to report.
“If you don’t get a response from the watch commander, don’t bother with the deputy chief, come right to me,” Ambrose said.
Residents also argued that more lights, and ones that shine brighter, need to be installed in the neighborhoods and alleys. The woman who was the target of the attempted carjacking on Lombard said she believes she was a victim because the shortage of street lighting on her block.
She and others are working to petition the village to install more effective street lighting throughout the village. One resident said they have heard from police that there is not enough light in the village “to do their jobs.”
Both Ambrose and Oak Park Public Works Director John Wielebnicki said they had not heard that complaint from police but would investigate.
OPPD recommend reading the following crime prevention tips.