Photo by Joe Boyle
Oak Lawn Detective Tom Cronin speaks to residents at a public safety meeting last week at Salem United Church of Christ. He offered advice on how to prevent becoming a victim of crime.
Oak Lawn Trustee Terry Vorderer (4th) assured residents who attended his public safety meeting last week that crime in the village has fluctuated in recent years and has actually decreased since 2014.
“I think the village is just fine,” said Vorderer, before a crowd of about 75 people at Salem United Church of Christ in Oak Lawn. “I know with social media that reports sometimes just get magnified. But crime is no greater than it was five years ago.”
Vorderer, who is completing his first term as trustee and is a former Oak Lawn police officer, said that violent crime was down last year from 2014. Oak Lawn Police Chief Michael Murray told the audience that there were 70 violent crimes in Oak Lawn in 2015, as opposed to 90 in 2014.
Murray said crime figures were higher in 2014 due to a series of incidents involving three perpetrators – an adult and two minors -- who were eventually arrested. But he added the figures were lower in previous years.
“I will let the numbers speak for themselves,” said Murray. “In 2001, we had 187 burglaries. As of this afternoon (Oct. 13), we had 79 this year so far.”
Murray reiterated what Vorderer mentioned earlier that with additional electronic media sources available, the reporting of crimes is often overstated.
“It is a good thing but sometimes it can be overwhelming,” said Murray. “The good thing is the word is getting out.”
The police chief said that if he could offer advice to Oak Lawn residents on how to cut down on crime dramatically, it would be to do one thing.
“Lock your doors,” said Murray. “The vast amount of these crimes is committed because someone did not lock their front doors. And lock the doors of your car. Keep the doors locked and don’t leave valuables on your car seat.”
Murray also mentioned to residents to make sure their home address is clear. After calling 911 and the police arrive at what they believe is a residence, it would make better sense to have the address in an area that is visible. Precious moments are wasted looking for an address that is not visible from the street, Murray said.
“You guy are our eyes and ears,” said Murray. “If you see something that doesn’t look right, call us. Don’t pull out your cellphone and take a picture. Call 911 first if you think the police need to be there.”
Murray talked about home security and offered some suggestions to lessen the chances of becoming a crime victim. He mentioned making a list of what a family needs to do be safe, such as making sure the front door area is well lit.
“It may cost you a little more,” said Murray. “But criminals don’t like the light.”
Overgrown bushes in front of the home should be trimmed, according to Murray. He said a criminal could utilize the bushes as a means to hide and enter the home. Murray said residents should think like a burglar. If a door is locked, criminals will go to the next house, he said.
Murray said Oak Lawn has 109 police officers and added that they are as highly staffed as they have ever been.
Detective Tom Cronin told the crowd that they should be nosy neighbors. Residents who go on vacation should mention to neighbors to pick up the mail and newspapers. He mentioned that residents who are going to be away for some time can contact the police, who will also come by to monitor the home.
“These are common sense things,” said Cronin. “These are crimes of opportunities. We live in an extremely safe community. Don’t make it easy for them. We call it situational awareness. Just be aware. If it doesn’t look right, like someone you have never seen before sitting in a car, call the police.”
Cronin said a lot of crimes are committed in the daytime. If they don’t get a response at the front door, they will go to the back. Cronin said that dogs can be a deterrent.
Scams are more prevalent due to technological advances. Cronin warned residents about IRS scams in which a caller will state that they need to pay a certain fine or they will be arrested. Cronin assured residents that the IRS never makes such calls. He also suggests having caller ID on their phones. If the caller is anonymous, don’t answer it, said Cronin. It could be a scam or at the least, a telemarketer.
Cronin also warned of ruse burglaries, scam artists who posed as legitimate workers who will talk their way into the victims’ homes. Some are opportunists who just happen to spot an easy target, such as the elderly, or an open door or window.
The Oak Lawn detective also mentioned the “grandfather” or “grandmother” scam in which someone calls stating they are a nephew who got into serious trouble in Canada or some other foreign country and don’t want their parents to know. They plead for money to be sent to them and unfortunately the startled caller sometimes does just that. Caller ID would eliminate the annoying calls, Cronin said.
Murray added that anyone seeking donations from organizations should have a permit. The lone exceptions, he said, would be politicians or religious groups.
“Technology is making our job very difficult,” said Murray. Even caller ID is not enough because someone can use technology to insert a familiar phone number into your phone caller ID, he added.
Murray said that the Oak Lawn police force is sympathetic to victims of crime.
“This is the worst day in these people’s lives,” said Murray. “They are now on information overload.”
And that is why Murray continues to tell residents on how to reduce crime.
“The fastest way to get a hold of us is calling 911,” he added.