The number of serious crimes reported during a calendar year dropped last year to its lowest level since 2007, according to data released by the Riverside Police Department earlier this month.
Police Chief Thomas Weitzel announced the news to the Riverside Village Board at its March 16 meeting.
The information is drawn from the Uniform Crime Report, which is compiled annually by every law enforcement agency in the nation to track eight categories of crimes, including murder, criminal sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault/battery, burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.
Local police departments in Illinois send the data to the Illinois State Police, which passes it along to the FBI, which tracks crime rates nationwide.
In 2016, there were 132 incidents that qualified for inclusion in the Riverside Uniform Crime Report. That is 6.4 percent lower than 2015.
However, the overall decrease is somewhat misleading in that it was driven almost entirely by a large drop in the number of aggravated assault/battery cases. Those cases fell from 57 in 2015 to 12 in 2016, a decrease of 79 percent.
While Weitzel said the village experienced a large drop off in the number of domestic battery incidents in 2016, the decline in assault/battery cases can also be traced to changes in the way some of those cases are handled by police.
Weitzel said a change in state law encourages school officials to have police issue local ordinance violation tickets for minor assault/battery cases involving juvenile students instead of sending those offenders through the juvenile court system.
That change led to a “tremendous reduction” in juvenile battery cases that previously would have ended up as part of the village’s Uniform Crime Report.
Weitzel said that while he was pleased to see a drop in overall crime numbers, he said local crime experiences spikes and drops all the time, and that some of the results are due to “the FBI continually modifying their standards.”
While aggravated assault/battery cases dropped sharply in 2016, almost every other crime category, and burglary in particular, saw increases.
Riverside has not experienced a homicide in more than a decade and for the second straight year there were no robberies reported in Riverside.
But burglaries jumped 118 percent from 11 incidents in 2015 to 24 in 2016. Theft was also at its highest level in four years, with 90 incidents reported.
“The vast majority of those are thefts from automobiles [that are] unlocked,” Weitzel said. “That’s everything from tollway change to laptop computers to cellphones. Many, many residents continue to park their cars on the street and in their driveways and simply don’t lock them.”
Riverside also saw a slight increase in the number of criminal sexual assault cases reported (from one in 2015 to two in 2016), motor vehicle theft (also from one to two) and arson (from zero to two).
Though it’s not part of the Uniform Crime Report, a significant segment of police effort in Riverside in 2016 went toward impaired driving enforcement.
Police in Riverside logged its highest number of DUI arrests in a decade last year, with 136 incidents reported. Since 2007, according to police records, Riverside officers have made more than 1,000 arrests for driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Weitzel also noted a spike in the number of traffic crashes his officers responded to in 2016. Police took 373 traffic accident reports last year, an increase of almost 27 percent compared to 2015, when police reported 294 crashes.
The department also issued a little more than 5,000 tickets in 2016, with a 42 percent increase in the number of parking tickets (2,008) leading the way.