I read with interest your recent article, “Debating Crime and Gas Stations” [News, Aug. 17], which discusses both the village board’s response to the tragic event that occurred at the 24-hour BP gas station at 100 Chicago Avenue as well as the increase in violent crime at gas stations in general.
At our Aug. 1 board meeting, the board directed staff to both strengthen our nuisance ordinance and produce a legal analysis exploring a reduction of hours at gas stations that operate around the clock. That information will be presented to the board shortly for our review and comment.
I’ve been clear while discussing this issue that we need to focus on those things that improve and ensure public safety, which is a fundamental duty of a trustee. While strengthening the nuisance ordinance is desirable, it will not reduce gun violence at gas stations. I have voiced my opinion before that such a connection simply doesn’t exist.
Further, it’s my belief that most of the actions proposed thus far by our police department may not reduce gun violence either. Using decoy cars, increasing patrols, and utilizing RBO’s to reach out to station owners are good measures, but unlikely to significantly impact the problem. Additionally, such measures place an undue burden on our police for an extended period of time while focusing on a singular policing issue among many facing Oak Park. Coupled with the fact that the locations of the eight stations in question are spread throughout the village makes this an even more difficult task.
There was a time many years ago when gas stations in our village did not operate 24 hours a day, and all eight of the now 24-hour gas stations existed back then. Ordinances were changed to allow them to stay open all night long, and they can just as easily be changed back. Every decision made by the village board involves measuring and assessing risk, with the potential for a lawsuit always a possibility. But that should never be allowed to deter us from taking action involving the mitigation of violent activity to promote public safety.
The village board next meets on Sept. 6, and we will once again be discussing the issue of safety at 24-hour gas stations in Oak Park. I will continue to advocate for the closure of gas stations in the overnight hours as a measure to reduce the opportunity for violent crime and gun violence in our neighborhoods. While we need to be aware of the financial and legal implications of an ordinance closing gas stations late at night, we cannot and should not weigh that against the goal of protecting our residents and keeping our community safe.
Jim Taglia is a trustee on the village of Oak Park Board.