A violent weekend in late January that startled Riverside residents may or may not indicate what’s in store, crime wise, for the village over the long haul in 2019. But if last year is any indication, the number of serious crimes will continue to be low in Riverside.
According to a preliminary report issued by Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel on Feb. 21, the number of serious crimes as determined by the FBI was down by 5.5 percent last year compared to 2017.
In all, Riverside reported 104 serious crimes – the lowest number in recent memory — and marked the fifth consecutive year that the number of crimes had dropped year over year. In 2017, Riverside reported 110 serious crimes.
“It’s not a huge number,” said Weitzel referring to the difference between 2017 and 2018. “But I always say I’d prefer the numbers to be down than up.”
The numbers come from the village’s Uniform Crime Report, which Riverside submits every year to the Illinois State Police. The Uniform Crime Report tracks the eight categories of violent and property crime that the FBI considers the most important – murder, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault/battery, burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.
The state numbers are compiled by the FBI to comprise its national crime survey.
Among the categories seeing drops in incidents were aggravated assault/battery, theft and arson. Riverside has not experienced a homicide in more than 15 years.
Aggravated assault/battery has nearly disappeared as a reportable crime in Riverside, with just three in 2018. As recently as 2014 and 2015, the village had reported more than 50 annually.
Weitzel said that domestic battery calls are way down as are calls from Riverside-Brookfield High School. Part of that Weitzel attributes to the presence of Lane Niemann, the former North Riverside police chief who serves as RBHS’ school resource officer.
“I think the presence of Lane Niemann at the high school has worked,” Weitzel said. “I think incidents are either mitigated by him or his presence alone has reduced police calls for service.”
Also playing a role in the drop in batteries at the high school is a recent Illinois law that allows police to write local ordinance tickets to first-time offenders, so they don’t have criminal records as juveniles.
“I think that’s a good thing in those cases,” Weitzel said.
One of the biggest drops seen in Riverside was 17 fewer thefts in 2018 compared to 2017. The 77 thefts reported last year were the fourth-lowest annual total since 2004.
On the other hand, burglaries (11) ticked up in 2018 as did reports of criminal sexual assault (5). According to Weitzel, the criminal sexual assault cases all involved family members. Three of those cases remain open investigations, Weitzel said.
Burglaries, Weitzel said are difficult to predict and go in cycles.
“We’re the type of community where it’s all or nothing,” said Weitzel. “We’ll get hit with four, five, six, seven car burglaries and then we’ll make an arrest or another town will make an arrest and it will stop.”
Robberies went from none in 2017 to four last year, including the robbery in January of a teenager in an alley behind Riverside Garage, a convenience store robbery in June, a reported robbery of a teen on Forest Avenue, and the robbery of a repair man in September that ended with the arrest of four people after a car chase into downtown Riverside.
Riverside reported a 22-percent drop in calls for service, but Weitzel attributed some of that to the changeover in emergency dispatching to West Central Consolidated Communications (WC3), which combines agencies in some calls for service instead of opening up a report for each agency.
DUI arrests were way down in 2018 – just 77 were reported last year compared to 113 in 2017. Weitzel attributed some of that decline to the rise of ride-share services like Lyft and Uber. He said on Friday and Saturday nights in downtown Riverside, his officers see restaurant patrons routinely hopping into ride-shares to go home.
“More people seem to be getting the message,” Weitzel said. “There seem to be less DUI drivers on the street.”
A 5.8-percent increase in traffic citations handed out by Riverside officers, said Weitzel, reflected the community’s interest in slowing down traffic on the village’s residential streets.
“Parking and traffic enforcement are really quality-of-life issues for our residents,” said Weitzel. “We have to make their priority our priority.”