Monday, January 12, 2015

NOW THE HARD PART: Area Robberies Down 34% Last Year, Still TWICE As Many As There "Should" Be

The annual robbery count for our neighborhood (blue)
plotted with identically-scaled citywide robbery performance.
Source: City of Chicago Data Portal
After three consecutive years of record high robbery counts, Wrigleyville and Boystown saw 157 robberies last year, a 34% drop from the year before and almost exactly the same number reported in 2001, the first year for which crime records are publicly available.

But a CWB analysis of city data shows that there is much more work to be done.

Despite a strong reversal, police beat 1924, covering the center of Wrigleyville and Boystown, still ranked #3 for robberies last year.

That tells you just how bad things got around here in recent years. 34% fewer robberies, yet we're still #3. And still the only police beat on the North Side to rank in the top 20 for robberies citywide.

A Stunning Turnaround

Commander Elias Voulgaris talks to a neighborhood group.
Image: DNAInfo Chicago
Credit for the remarkable reversal in the neighborhood's robbery trend should be directed to local police commander Elias Voulgaris and the officers of the 19th district.

We were no fans of Voulgaris in the early going. He seemed to be relying on the same lines and excuses that previous commanders and a slew of CAPS officers gave while our neighborhood was overrun with thugs. "Perception." "Crime is down." "Just an uptick."

We called him a liar and more.

But, in late 2013, came signs of a new approach. "You'll notice I didn't bring up [crime] stats," he told an ornery October CAPS meeting audience, "No one believes the stats."

And, as 2014 dawned, Voulgaris began sending all new officers to the overnight shift. He directed them to prowl the alleys and conduct street stops in a concerted effort to take back the streets.

It's worked.

At a recent CAPS meeting, Voulgaris shared his thoughts on why things are getting better:
• Better policing strategies. Arresting potential robbery offenders before they have a chance to rob someone. Fully staffing the overnight shift so there are more officers on duty when the most violent crimes happen.
• The consistent use of the district's "entertainment detail" along the Boystown and Wrigleyville bar strips.
• Media coverage (Hi!) and the issuance of community alerts by Area North detectives to raise awareness.
• Individuals looking out for themselves, each other, and the neighborhood.
The 20 most robbery-laden police beats in Chicago last year.
Beat 1924, covering the center of our neighborhood, ranks #3.
Source: Chicago Police Department

Where We Should Be

Since 2001, neighboring police districts have seen robberies decline by 45% to 54%. And the citywide robbery rate has dropped 39% during those years.

The rest of our own district is down 44%.

If Wrigleyville and Boystown had simply paced along with neighboring districts since 2001, our robbery count last year would have been around 76, not 157.

And we probably could have had 76 if previous police leaders and our current politicians had simply addressed the problem in its infancy rather than mislead the public while the trouble brewed.

Pushing Forward

The big challenge now is to continue to drive the robbery rate down.

That's no easy task. It's sorta like the dirty, crusty oven that you have to scrub clean before moving out of an apartment after 3 years. It would have been much easier to simply mop up the oven every week rather than rubbing your knuckles raw in an attempt to remove years of dirt and grime all at once.

Same here. It would have been much easier to simply address the street crime problem years ago when residents started expressing their concerns. But, previous commanders and our aldermen did not. So, Voulgaris and our 19th district cops find themselves scrubbing several years of crime build-up off of the streets.

And, just to keep it interesting for them, the city has taken away more than 100 of the cops who used to work here. Go get 'em boys!

A Change At The Helm?

Voulgaris has been in our district slightly more than two years. That's about the shelf life of a Chicago Police Department district commander before they get shuffled somewhere else. So, while nothing has been announced, there's a decent chance that he will be rotated out of here in the not-to-distant future.

When he does leave, the big question will be who's the replacement? Whoever it is, we'd like to believe that they won't start off with the usual "no problem here" approach.

We'd like to believe that. But, considering that the former CAPS sergeant who oversaw much of our area's robbery surge has been promoted twice in the past year, we're not so sure that straight-forward, effective approaches are rewarded in the Chicago Police Department.

Statistical Note

For statistical purposes, CWB considers the combined areas of Chicago police beats 1923, 1924, and 1925 to be "Wrigleyville and Boystown."  The police department merged two districts and completely redrew police beats to form the current 19th district in March 2012.  In order to maintain consistent comparisons of pre- and post-merger statistics, we employ a simple method that will cause our robbery count to vary slightly from the police department's official numbers. An explanation of that method is at the bottom of THIS page.
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