Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel released data regarding major crimes committed during the first half of 2017 on Aug. 15, which shows reports of such offenses are down sharply compared to the first half of 2016.
The mid-year report includes the eight categories included in the Uniform Crime Report, which every police agency in the state compiles and submits annually to the Illinois State Police.
Crime categories include both violent and major property crimes, including homicide, criminal sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault/battery, burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.
The report does not include most misdemeanors or drug-related offenses, nor does it include data for arrests related to impaired driving.
According to the report, major crime incidents were down 36.2 percent during the first six months of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016.
During the first six months of 2016, there were 91 reportable incidents in Riverside. But through June 30, 2017, Riverside police reported just 58 such incidents, with marked decreases in burglary and theft, two categories that typically drive the village’s crime numbers.
Burglary reports dropped from 13 in the first half of 2016 to just two in 2017, while thefts fell year over year from 64 to 50.
Weitzel credited at least some of the decrease to an initiative, now about a year old, where police officers hang placards on residents’ front doors whenever officers observe something that would attract criminal activity.
The bright yellow hang tags are used particularly by officers on the night shift, when most vehicle break-ins and garage burglaries take place. If an officer spots an open garage door or toys or bikes left in the front yard or driveway, the officer will fill out a hangtag describing the residents’ possible exposure to crime.
Weitzel said the village’s police officers are directed to close open overhead garage doors if they can and leave a hangtag letting the resident know about the situation.
In addition, during the daytime hours, Riverside’s community service officer has on occasion left hang tags at houses in a certain area that may be experiencing a rash of vehicle burglaries, for example, to help residents prevent more incidents.
Whenever a police shift finds itself with more than minimum staffing, said Weitzel, the department will deploy officers on bicycles and in an unmarked squad car to cover more ground.
“We have been doing more residential patrols and are encouraging officers to get out of their cars and have contact with people,” Weitzel said.
The police department has also begun tracking the use of the hangtags, said Weitzel, where officers document when and where they’re used.
The hangtags are the result of a $1,000 donation from a Riverside resident, said Weitzel, who wished the money could be used on crime prevention programs that benefit the whole community.
“We purchased the door hangers with her money,” Weitzel said.
Riverside also saw a drop in the number of aggravated assault/battery cases, from 11 in the first half of 2016 to five through June 30, 2017. Weitzel credited part of the drop to the village’s policy of having police officers file charges against those suspected of domestic battery in cases where there are obvious signs of injury to the victim.
Anyone arrested for domestic battery cannot immediately post bail. State law requires anyone charged with domestic battery to appear before a judge in bond court. While domestic battery cases often end up being dismissed for lack of prosecution, said Weitzel, “it’s better than leaving an abuser in the house overnight.”
Serious violent crime was almost non-existent in Riverside during the first half of 2017. While there were five assault/battery reports, there were no reports of homicide, sexual assault or robbery. There were also no motor vehicle thefts, a category that some suburban Chicago areas have seen increases in this year.
Weitzel noted that arrests were also down about 23 percent in the first half of 2017. Part of that decrease, Weitzel said, was due to a change in Riverside law that made possessing up to 30 grams of cannabis a local ordinance violation and not a criminal offense. The fine for possessing up to 30 grams of cannabis in Riverside is $150.
In June, Weitzel also reported that the number of impaired driving arrests in Riverside had fallen sharply year over year. The total number of arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs during the first six months of 2017 was 53, compared to 77 during the same time period in 2016, a reduction of 31 percent.