Crime forces hard choices

Opinion: Columns

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By John Hubbuch

I have lived in Oak Park since 1976 and to be honest, I have never really thought about crime here very much.

Until now.

My son Chris lives in Oak Park but is looking at a house in Western Springs. At first I was disappointed because I like having him, Sarah, Lily and Ava nearby, but then I talked to parents with kids in New Zealand, Montana and California. Chris and I have had a number of conversations in which I have lobbied for Oak Park against Western Springs. One of Chris' understandable concerns is the safety and security of his family. To be sure, everyone is interested in a safe place to live. He directed me to a website: The crime statistics for Oak Park and Western Springs are eye-opening, to say the least.

Oak Park has 53,000 people, and Western Springs is much smaller — only 13,000. In 2009, Oak Park had only one murder and one rape, and Western Springs had none. Pretty safe in both towns. However, pro-rated per 100,000 people (which the website does for comparison purposes), Oak Park had 275 robberies; Western Springs 8 (one total robbery for all of 2009). Oak Park had 69 assaults; Western Springs, a hard-to-believe zero. Oak Park had 1,082 burglaries; Western Springs, 173. And Oak Park had 2,484 thefts; and Western Springs had 613. (As noted, all of these numbers are per 100,000 people.) I was surprised how dramatic these differences were.

Now to be sure, Oak Park's numbers are fairly close to the national averages, and there are lots of places in the Chicago area that aren't nearly as safe as Oak Park. And crime is much less than when we moved here in 1976. On the other hand, Western Springs would appear to be a much safer place than Oak Park.

So there are the objective crime stats. Then there is the subjective perception of crime, which is probably at least as important. As noted, I've lived in Oak Park for 35 years and the only crime I experienced was the time someone stole a bike from my garage — but I had left the garage door open. I always assume the bad stuff happens at 2 a.m. on Austin Boulevard. I go to bed at 9 and don't live there. I moved here from Hyde Park, where the crime was worse. I'll bet crime rates are higher in Lincoln Park, River North, West Loop and South Loop than they are here. On the other hand, there are people who don't feel safe riding the Blue Line — in rush hour! Perception may not be everything, but it's important.

Marsha and I argue over whether it's safe to take Lily to Columbus Park to feed the ducks in the lagoons. I frequently run there, so I know the scariest things in the park are a couple of old black guys armed with fishing poles. I don't see any problem, but Marsha kind of does, so we find other places to feed the ducks.

Just where do you draw the crime line? On the one hand, you don't want to needlessly endanger yourself and your loved ones by ignoring a certain reality. Yet on the other, you don't want to give in to a dark fear that will diminish you and the community you love.

There are hard choices in life.

Reader Comments

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Jg Morales  

Posted: July 28th, 2011 11:19 AM

@Life's too short- I'm pretty sure he's just poking fun at fears that already exist among many Oak Parkers. And to his credit, he's a good one because I won't even go there. I was cautioned against it as a child, and minded my mother on the issue. I've still never been. do you measure diversity without the labels of difference? There has to be and acknowledged difference for diversity to exist.

Life's too short  

Posted: July 28th, 2011 11:09 AM

The line that catches my attention: "so I know the scariest things in the park are a couple of old black guys armed with fishing poles." Good example of Oak Park. Market the examplary "diversity" and yet after 35 years keep equating black=scary.Maybe it was in jest, yet continues the marginalization and labelling of anyone not just like you. Time to scratch deeper into the surface of "diversity"


Posted: July 16th, 2011 10:49 PM

Honestly, I don't see a groundswell of OP people moving to WS. We are an older, inner-ring suburb that will always have more challenges than the further flung suburbs. Personally, I feel much safer here than anyplace I have ever lived, and I have lived in rural areas and urban.

adele from op  

Posted: July 16th, 2011 7:39 PM

@jo_ great question. We meet with our beat officer regularly and are committed to watching out for each other and reporting any problems. Awesome. "Meaningfully engage" means 1) acknowledging crime effects quality of life, 2) evaluating the number of beat cops on the streets (we have too few given $ goes to brick streets), 3) Enforce nuisance crimes (panhandling, two-on-one bike riders, solicitation, etc.) I think OP police are great, let's reduce crime so peeps don' t move to WS.


Posted: July 16th, 2011 5:50 PM

Adele, you keep repeating yourself about crime needing to be "meaningfully engaged" Could you please explain what you mean? Obv we have crime, that's why we have a police department, neighborhood beat cops/nosy neighbors.

adele from op  

Posted: July 16th, 2011 5:37 PM

@JHubboch_ Might it be possible that we are not wanting to move, are not "stuck" underwater, love many if not most things about Oak Park, but think crime is an issue that should be meaningfully engaged? Why the need to view "us" as so separate from you?

Adele from op  

Posted: July 16th, 2011 5:22 PM

@epic_let's see if I follow: I exclude criminals because they break the law and cause varying degrees of physical, material, and emotional damage. You prefer criminals over those you label as cowards, because you equate honest attempts (not hyperbole) to address crime issues as evidence cowardice and a more"damaging threat" to Oak Park? Then you proclaim crime is not a threat, when the article clearly states crime is the reason for an Oak Parker with a long family history to move. Umm, ok.

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: July 16th, 2011 11:26 AM

A murder victim and a rape victim are not a matter of "perception", ever.

localop_sarah from Oak Park  

Posted: July 16th, 2011 9:40 AM

I grew up in Oak Park. Then I lived in Palos Park for a number of years. Now I live in Oak Park again. It's true I missed the ability to take a 20 minutes el ride to The Art Institute. I missed walking for groceries. All of that ease of walking around does change the sense of safety. I never locked my house doors in Palos. I would park my car in my drive way and NOT LOCK IT. I lock it all in Oak Park. I'm raising my kids here. They lock everything too.

John Hubbuch from Oak Park  

Posted: July 16th, 2011 8:44 AM

These comments pretty clearly document that crime like many things (if not everything) is a matter of perception. We all bring our individual experiences to bear on the issue. I have no doubt that if were the victim of a serious crime I would view the issue differently. I must say that I feel bad for the people who live here, but seem to hate it. I'm assuming that they are upside down on their mortgage, and can't move.

epic lulz  

Posted: July 15th, 2011 8:49 PM

@Adele -- you don't like criminals; I don't like cowards. We're both exclusionary. The only difference is that cowards are a real threat to OP and its future; criminals are not. Keep locked inside, behind your lace curtains of paranoia, and let the rest of us continue to build the community.


Posted: July 15th, 2011 8:24 PM

Maybe a little worry keeps us on our toes. Awhile back I was watching a discussion on TV about parents moving to the burbs for safer neighborhoods and better education. Because they felt safer, they let their guard down. Children were given more freedom to find trouble, and parents weren't staying on top of curriculum etc as they should. I think that was the reason for all the *shock* when ecstasy hit the more affluent communities, for instance.

Adele from OP  

Posted: July 15th, 2011 1:40 PM

@J.G....completely agree its a lifestyle choice. I love OP for all there is to love, and choose it over places like WS, though I think those are great suburbs to live in. - I prefer the funk of OP, but feel crime is a problem and too often rationalized away by our citizenry, This is to our detriment. When people who wish to tackle crime are met with sarcasm and name calling (see below), many will say "screw it", move out, and relinquish a battle that many don't see as necessary.


Posted: July 15th, 2011 6:42 AM

Lifestyle. I love nature, so the first college I chose was in the sticks. The only danger for 70 miles were icy roads and the occasional bear. 70 miles away was also where all the fun happened to be. It was a poor match for me. I think a lot more than crime rate should be considered when changing lifestyle. I know I don't like to be too far from the action, but I don't like to be right in the thick of it either. Yet if crime rate affects property values it's a sure sign you're in the wrong place

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: July 14th, 2011 9:20 PM

My 3 children all lived in the Wrigleyville area during their young adult lives. They had a lot of friends who married and stayed for a while before moving to the burbs. Some stayed in the Wrigleyville area as parents. The suburb folks miss the day to day access to the city. Those that stayed seem happier with their choice. My children moved from Wrigleyville to Oak Park, downtown Chicago,& Colorado. The one in OP likes it but misses Chi-town life and looks longingly at Geneva. I like all 3.

adele from op  

Posted: July 14th, 2011 5:05 AM

@ west side...Your point #1 yes, the fact that we border the west side and experience a higher crime rate is precisely why I believe the issue should be thoughtfully and seriously engaged. Is there not more we can do to prevent or minimize crime and keep people like John's son (and others) from jumping ship? Your point #2, during rush, metra runs express trains from both La Grange and Hinsdale to the loop in under 21 minutes, the quickest WS metra is 26 minutes non stop.

west side  

Posted: July 13th, 2011 9:55 PM

People- We border the west side of Chicago. Last time I checked, its a 20 minute train ride to downtown. Cant say that about Western Springs.

Adele from op  

Posted: July 13th, 2011 4:42 PM

Glad to see you take this seriously, glad you find that fellow oak park citizens, who are concerned about the levels of crime and who want safety for their children, are labeled as cowards with the suggestion that they segregate themselves and "move out". Ah, another poster child for Oak Park inclusion...


Posted: July 13th, 2011 4:37 PM

Watching corn stalks grow is way more interesting than being stuck in Western Springs, imo. But like I said, it's a balancing act. If being farther from grandparents and the city and living in a less walkable area (oh wait, we're running around dodging bullets! good for the cardio) is what people want, that's great. It's not for me. I've lived here many years and haven't had one problem beyond the garage burglary, which appears to be the op newbie hazing.

epic lulz  

Posted: July 13th, 2011 4:29 PM

I would like to encourage all cowards to leave Oak Park.

adele from op  

Posted: July 13th, 2011 4:23 PM

Not scared of parks, just a realist who feels the community can only improve the crime problem by acknowledging it. I love OP and want it to be as desirable as Western Spring to the author's son. Also, I doubt those kids in the boonies of Western Springs are fighting tears of boredom while watching corn stalks grow :))


Posted: July 13th, 2011 4:17 PM

Fine, adele, be scared and don't go to the park. More for me. I am glad for the children in Western Springs who are in the Lyric choir or whatever. I hope they don't die of boredom.

adele from op  

Posted: July 13th, 2011 4:05 PM

@jo...Your statement "crime is actually quite low"...compared to what? Yes, location, proximity, architecture, diversity, educated populace all make Oak Park great. But crime in Oak Park cannot be described as "quite low". Also, I know kids in Western Springs / LaGrange who take voice lessons from Lyric Chorus members, so we don't have the market on professional artists. Two different communities, ours has a crime problem unfortunately.

O P  

Posted: July 13th, 2011 9:39 AM

Well said guy.

OPguy from Oak Park  

Posted: July 13th, 2011 9:02 AM

I would move to Western Springs but I would miss the diversity of crime in oak park. I would really hate not to see people from the West Side of Chicago like I am able to do here in Oak Park. I enjoy meeting bums at our library, seeing drunks sleep in our parks and being accosted by panhandlers. The occasional gang activity is just a part of teaching my children that we are all very different people


Posted: July 13th, 2011 8:49 AM

I'm at Columbus Park at least once or twice a week... I find it quite safe. On the other hand, I had a gun pulled on me at Mills Park a couple years back. I'm not going to stop going to either. You can't live in fear over what might happen. Keep going about your life. This village has so much to offer and too much beauty to be scared to walk down the street at any hour of the day. Crime is everywhere. Deal with it.

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: July 13th, 2011 8:18 AM

"Oak Park had only one murder and one rape. Western Springs had none. Pretty safe in both towns". True, except for the murder victim and rape victim.Crime is the hidden Oak Park tax that we all pay, some pay more than most.

kelly from Oak Park  

Posted: July 13th, 2011 6:03 AM

My dad has run for more than forty years, and he has run all over the world, even in countries where he was told he would not be safe running on his own. The only problem he has ever had was in columbus park. He was brutally attacked (knocked to the ground with a punch and then kicked in the head) while running in columbus park on a sunday morning. I would avoid running there.


Posted: July 13th, 2011 5:57 AM

It's a balancing act. Crime is actually quite low here and we have a responsive police department, but that isn't everything. I like having a walkable community, where my kids can walk to the pool and downtown with their friends. I like having strong community schools. I like being able to hop on the train and go further west or to Millennium Park. I like that my kids can take music or dance lessons from professional musicians and dancers. For me, it's either the city or OP.

adele from op  

Posted: July 13th, 2011 4:35 AM

Cont... People get robbed and sometimes assaulted on the blue/green lines (do you read the paper?) You seem to imply that people are making a big deal out of nothing. While crime stats may be down (and to what degree is questionable), living in Oak Park is living with a lot of crime. I think your son will have about 50% less "parent anxiety" living in W.S., and probably 20% less taxes.

adele from op  

Posted: July 13th, 2011 4:30 AM

Our neighbor was brutally attacked while jogging in Columbus park a couple of years ago. You go there at your own peril. Our local cleaners now locks their doors and you need to knock to gain entry. Re Oak Park crime stats: which crimes are down, how are crimes being coded, are crimes left "unsolved" (i.e., how far down is crime?). Those Chicago neighborhoods people leave to get better schools and less crime so not a good comp (and your anecdotal sense is not data - are those areas worse?)...

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