My wife and I are 47-year residents of Oak Park, 45 of them (since 1976) in our home in the 900 block of Wenonah Avenue. We hoped and planned to spend the rest of our days here. Now we are not so sure.
The reason is the dramatic recent increase in violent and dangerous crime in our neighborhood, the once sleepy southwest corner of the village, which was perfectly safe for many decades after we moved in. But in the last few years, there has been an alarming spike in criminal activity in this neighborhood, culminating in the astounding running gun battle over several blocks one night several weeks ago. Or rather, I should not say “culminating in,” since there have already been two more car hijackings in the interval since then. We have had some half a dozen in the last year or so, all within a half-mile.
The neighbors who have gotten together to try to address these problems have assembled a list of crimes reported here with frequency: from speeding through stop signs at crossings with heavy child pedestrian school traffic, to petty and grand thefts, to open drug use, to drug deals and carjackings, and now, a running gun battle.
These are all disturbing, and some are common to all urban areas, but the last three items are extremely alarming, drug deals included, because it is a reasonable hypothesis that the running gunfight arose from some such transaction gone bad.
While law enforcement has recognized these problems, and has initiated some enforcement measures, these are inadequate to stamp out the worst of them. For example, one measure, which appears to be the chief one, has been to increase nightly street patrols in the area by police. As a measure to put an effective stop to this crime spree, this effort would seem based on a faulty premise: the absurd implied assumption that all those bent on this kind of mayhem will get notice of the police presence, and won’t come. Or if they do, they’ll get caught. This appears to be little more than hand-wringing, keeping a little harder lookout, and hoping for the best.
Somebody is going to get killed if this pattern is not stopped. Then the village will do something about it, no doubt. Something serious and effective. Far more than it has done to date and is doing now.
We need something done before somebody gets killed. Something seriously to the purpose. And we need it now.
The worst of these crimes are crimes of opportunity, and they are occurring here because the perpetrators recognize the opportunity. Besides being extraordinarily dark at night because of poor lighting, the area along Maple Park along Lexington Street at Harlem Avenue presents a proximity to something such criminals would naturally be drawn to: easy access to a quick getaway and escape via the I-290 entrance ramps. What more could a carjacker desire? Or a drug dealer, seeking a dark and quiet spot with the same features favorable for a quick exit?
That very feature cries out for a simple and obvious solution: a cul-de-sac at the corner of Maple and Lexington (with a one-way sign for traffic coming out of Mohr’s yard, onto Harlem), and perhaps another cul-de-sac near the corner of Maple and Garfield. That would immediately remove the chief factor facilitating these crimes, by taking away the opportunity.
Yet those who broached this subject with the village administrators were told it is not possible because there is a village ordinance against new cul-de-sacs. Well change it! We have cul-de-sacs on all four sides of Oak Park, along Roosevelt, Harlem, North, and Austin, and more than a few in the middle — all for the mundane purpose of traffic control. How about one or two to stop violent crimes of opportunity and to save our lives? In fact, why hasn’t the village already put up temporary barriers to this crime superhighway?
What the people of this area want, I think it is safe to say, is basic services, and, most of all, basic safety. Do something effective, now.
Frank Stachyra is a resident of Oak Park.