By Bob Uphues
North Riverside Police Chief Anthony Garvey announced last week that the number of serious crimes fell by 5.8 percent in 2012 after the village experienced an uptick the prior year.
According to the village's annual Uniform Crime Report (UCR), which the Illinois State Police requires of every police agency in the state, violent crime in particular fell sharply in 2012. Property crimes, particularly theft — related mainly to shoplifting incidents in North Riverside's shopping areas — continued to be the biggest crime categories.
The Uniform Crime Report tracks eight categories of crimes, including murder, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault/battery, burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft and arson. It does not track drug offenses, minor assault and battery incidents or drunk driving.
The state uses the information to create a "crime rate" figure for every municipality in the state. Those crime rates can be somewhat misleading, however. North Riverside's is astronomical compared to neighboring Riverside and routinely much higher than neighboring towns like Berwyn and Cicero.
But the state's crime rate is determined by the number of incidents per 100,000 people, which leaves an otherwise sleepy residential community like North Riverside in an unfavorable position. Of the 610 total incidents reported to the state police in 2012, thefts accounted for 551 — 90 percent. Almost all of the thefts are reported at the shopping centers.
While the number of reportable crimes is down just a few percentage points in 2012 from 2011, it is down dramatically since 2008. In that year, North Riverside reported 894 incidents in its UCR. The 610 reported in 2012 implies that serious crime in the village has fallen almost 32 percent since 2008. Between 1997 and 2008, the number of reportable crimes hovered between roughly 800 and 1,000.
But the drop in the number of crimes doesn't tell the whole story.
As in 2012, prior years' crime numbers were driven by theft. In 2008, police reported 804 thefts. In 2010, that figure dropped to 506 — a 37-percent decrease.
But in 2010, North Riverside also changed the way it handled petty shoplifting. Prior to that year, all shoplifting incidents, whether they were $5 or $1,500 were reported on the UCR.
After 2009, however, police began writing local ordinance tickets for petty shoplifting and handled them with an in-house adjudicator. Because police are simply writing tickets for petty offenses, they don't show up on the UCR.
In 2012, North Riverside police wrote 372 tickets for petty theft.
North Riverside saw two categories of crime rise slightly in 2012. The number of burglaries edged up from 29 in 2011 to 30 in 2012. That's the highest number of burglaries since 2009; the village has averaged 29 burglaries a year for the past six years.
Motor vehicle theft also rose in 2012 to 21, the most incidents reported since 2008. However, motor vehicle theft in North Riverside has absolutely plummeted since the late 1990s.
In 1997, there were 80 motor vehicle thefts in the village. Between 1998 and 2002, the village averaged 48 vehicle thefts per year.
Violent crime took a nosedive in 2012. After experiencing 11 robberies in 2011, the village had just three in 2012, the lowest number in the last 15 years. And there were just five aggravated assault/battery incidents in 2012, compared to 10 in 2011. It was the lowest number reported since 2005 and the second-lowest total in more than a decade.
North Riverside also reported no murder, rape or arson incidents in 2012.
While they aren't included in the UCR, drug arrests fell 42.8 percent — from 35 to 20 — in 2012 compared to the previous year. Of that number, there were eight arrests for cannabis, five for controlled substances, two for possessing needles and five for possessing drug paraphernalia.