By Bob Uphues
Riverside police saw the total number of major crimes it was called upon to investigate in 2019 drop for the sixth consecutive year. According to the village's Uniform Crime Report issued last week by Police Chief Thomas Weitzel, the total number of reportable incidents was down 4.8 percent, from 104 to 99.
The FBI mandates law enforcement agencies from around the nation submit a Uniform Crime Report annually to their state police agency. The FBI then compiles the data to track crime trends over time.
It requires that agencies submit how many times it investigated crimes in eight categories, including murder, criminal sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault/battery, burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.
The report does not track misdemeanor offenses, including minor weapons and drug offenses, impaired driving arrests and many other categories.
"I'm always happy when it's down," said Weitzel, who credited residents for their vigilance in helping deter crime by reporting suspicious activity.
"We had 456 phone calls in 2019 from Riverside residents reporting suspicious people, cars and activity," Weitzel said. "I always think that goes a long way toward reducing crime. I know it's anecdotal and you can't say how many crimes they may have prevented, but that's a high number of calls for suspicious activity."
But Weitzel also noted, that in some cases the number of incidents is lower because reporting protocols change over time. For example, not too many years ago 17 year olds were considered adults for reporting purposes. Any teenagers 17 or older charged with battery at Riverside-Brookfield High School, for example, was charged criminally and the incident was included in the Uniform Crime Report.
Now 17 year olds are considered juveniles and battery incidents at the high school often are handled through local adjudication or other means of resolution.
"In the past, those students would have been brought in for mugshots and fingerprinting," Weitzel said. "That rarely happens now."
As a result, the number of aggravated assault/battery cases in Riverside has fallen dramatically in recent years. In 2019, there was just one such incident reported in the village.
As recently as 2015, police had reported more than 50 such incidents.
Riverside traditionally sees very little in the way of violent crime, although serious crimes are not unknown. Early last year, within the span of a week in January, Riverside experienced a shooting in the downtown area and a home invasion/kidnapping in a residential neighborhood west of First Avenue.
Police charged a man for the shooting, and he is presently serving time in state prison. Investigators continue to work on the home invasion/kidnapping, said Weitzel.
Investigators worked on five criminal sexual assault cases in 2019, according to the Uniform Crime Report, but none of those cases has resulted so far in felony charges, Weitzel said.
Riverside police made arrests in two of the three robberies reported in Riverside in 2019. A man convicted of armed robbery for a March 31 incident in the 500 block of Longcommon Road is serving a two-year sentence in state prison.
Meanwhile, a 57-year-old man charged with robbing First American Bank in Riverside and another bank in Berwyn in March 2019 pleaded guilty last December and still awaits sentencing while being held in federal prison in Chicago.
Burglary and theft continue to drive crime numbers in Riverside, with burglary reports up almost 73 percent (from 11 to 19 incidents) in 2019. Theft reports fell 9 percent, from 77 in 2018 to 70 last year.
Surveillance cameras an important tool
Weitzel for the first time in a year-end crime report made a point to highlight the role surveillance cameras, including ones the village installed last year in the downtown area, played in helping police solve crimes.
"I want the public to know it was a wise investment that has paid off," Weitzel said.
Among the crimes police used cameras to assist them were bike thefts at the downtown train station, a DUI crash that began with the vehicle driving along sidewalks in Riverside, a battery on Burling Road and damage to village property. Cameras at Riverside-Brookfield High School were also used to investigate several crashes on First Avenue.
Last week, new village-owned cameras were installed at the intersection of Harlem Avenue and East Quincy Street in partnership with Amstar, the gas station located there. Police now have cameras with a direct internet connection to the police department that monitor eastbound and westbound East Quincy Street and northbound and southbound Harlem Avenue at that location.