By Bob Uphues
The number of major crimes reported in Riverside fell for the fourth straight year in 2017, according to the Uniform Crime Report filed by the police department to the Illinois State Police.
The Uniform Crime Report is submitted annually by all law enforcement agencies in the state, figures from which are used by the FBI to compile a nationwide report on the kinds of violent and property crimes the federal agency deems the most serious — murder, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault/battery, burglary, theft, vehicle theft and arson.
Many crimes are not included in the Uniform Crime Report, including drug offenses, drunken driving and many other misdemeanor crimes.
The total number of major crimes reported by Riverside police last year was 110, the lowest total in more than two decades and a nearly 17 percent drop from the prior year. Since 2013, the number of crimes annually reported has fallen by almost 37 percent.
"We get a lot of cooperation from residents, who continue to call in suspicious activity and cars," said Police Chief Thomas Weitzel. "You never know how much crime you prevent, but I think those types of calls do help."
Riverside saw significant drops in two categories in 2017. Aggravated assault/battery reports fell to just five in 2017, a drop of almost 60 percent. Meanwhile, the number of burglaries reported dropped into the single digits last year, a first in recent memory.
Last year's total of four burglaries was 83 percent fewer than in 2016. The village has seen as many as 30 or more burglaries during several years in the past decade.
Thefts were up slightly in 2017, but no category saw a major increase last year.
While the drop in major crimes in 2017 was welcome, said Weitzel, the numbers provide no guarantees for the future, as 2018 has already proven.
Police have reported two robberies since the beginning of the new year after reporting no robberies at all for three straight years going into 2018. Police in late February also charged two men with four burglaries to vehicles, matching the entire total for burglary last year.
"We've had an uptick in early 2018," said Weitzel. "We'll have to see how it shakes out at the end of the year, but numbers in small communities do fluctuate. Any time crime is down, I'm happy."
In addition to a lower number of reportable crimes, Riverside police reported lower patrol activity almost across the board during 2017 compared to the prior year, including total calls for service, accident reports taken, felony and misdemeanor arrests, DUI arrests, and parking and traffic citations written.
The only uptick reported by police was a slight increase in the number of juvenile arrests.
Part of the drop in things like citation writing resulted from staffing issues, said Weitzel. The department has been without one officer since he was called to active military duty last summer. He'll be out until his return in August. Another officer had a child and was out on maternity leave.
One area where Riverside saw a big jump was in the number of citations written for possession of small amounts of cannabis, an offense that was decriminalized by state law in 2016.
In that year, Riverside wrote nine cannabis possession tickets, said Weitzel. But in 2017, Riverside police issued 60 citation for the offense, which come with a fine of $150. According to Weitzel, all but one of those tickets were paid.