Here’s hoping that Cook County Forest Preserve District Police Chief John Roberts can help Riverside and Lyons police combat what the local cops say is a growing problem of drinking and disorderly conduct in the unincorporated forest preserve area just south of the Des Plaines River in Riverside Lawn.
Now this is not to say that a 24-hour rave is going on over there. A walk through the woods along the river on Monday afternoon was pretty solitary. A couple of fishermen hung out near the Hofmann Dam, but almost no one was in the woods behind Stella’s, where a man was stabbed last week.
But there are certainly prime times for partying in the woods. Weekends for one. Nights. While there weren’t many people in the woods Monday afternoon, there was plenty of evidence of recent parties. Empty, crumpled beer cans. Shards of broken glass. Charred stumps of wood. Random clothing and food containers.
That’s all pretty routine over there, and it’s been going on for years.
What’s also been going on is that anytime there’s trouble in Riverside Lawn, it’s Riverside and Lyons police who are the first to arrive. They are the ones who hunt through the woods, chasing after suspects, breaking up fights and responding to calls of suspicious characters.
Quite frankly, Riverside and Lyons police have their hands full patrolling their own villages without having to keep the peace on land under the control of Cook County agencies.
If, indeed, the problem with drinking and criminal activity in the woods is getting worse, then Cook County (and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources) needs to get some police officers out there — when people are actually out there partying — to send a message that it’s not welcome.
We don’t expect the problem is ever going away completely. Police resources are scarce, and the amount of forest preserve land for the county to patrol is vast. We get that.
But for the near future — with a recent, bloody incident on the books and a call from local police to step up patrols — we’d also ask Cook County, whether it’s the forest preserve police or sheriff’s police, to begin poking around that area nights and weekends, when the problems seem to be at their worst.
No one’s asking for the police to run off the fishermen, who have long enjoyed the quiet of Riverside Lawn to cast of couple of lines. But in addition to the drinking, there’s also scattered evidence that people sometimes set up housekeeping out in the woods.
That tells us they have no fear of police combing through the area and shooing them out of the woods. It’s the county’s land and, despite their reliance on local police to help respond to incidents immediately when they happen, it’s the county’s primary responsibility.