Police Chief, Village Discuss Crime at Skokie Voice Forum
Crime and traffic safety were the big issues discussed at Skokie Voice's open forum last week. According to an unscientific survey released by the group, almost half of the participants said Skokie is less safe than it was 3-5 years ago.
Many Skokie citizens have been alarmed by two very high profile crimes in recent weeks. When shots are fired near a train station or a 9-year-old is killed, tensions are inevitably going to rise. Such emotion served as the backdrop of a meeting on public safety last week.
Approximately 150 people attended an open forum hosted by upstart community group Skokie Voice to get an overview on security in the village. Village Manager Al Rigoni, Police Chief Anthony Scarpelli and Trustee Randy Roberts all fielded questions.
Not only were the aforementioned incidents on attendee’s minds, an unscientific survey of 293 people generated by Skokie Voice indicated that 47.7 percent of respondents believe the village is less safe than it was 3-5 years ago. In addition, that same survey showed that almost 62 percent of residents believe they are less safe after dark in their own neighborhood. Meanwhile, a small percentage said crime in Skokie has remained constant, according to the survey.
“We’ve had two very serious and unusual crimes,” said Roberts, who serves as a liaison to the village’s public safety commission and is now the chairman of an ad-hoc group looking at the ways to improve traffic safety after the death of 8-year-old Carter Vo in May. “But these two incidents don’t equal a crime wave. We have an excellent police department.”
Scarpelli tried to douse some rumors about Skokie's recent shooting. He went out of his way to say the people involved were not African-American and that neither family involved was a Section 8 voucher holder. Both issues were something residents speculated to the police chief after the shooting, he said.
He also added the shooting could have happened anywhere, and the fact it happened near the newly built Oakton Stop had no role in the crime.
Instead, Scarpelli believes it was domestic situation involving Alexander Soballe, the 20-year-old who allegedly opened fire at a vehicle during rush hour traffic near Oakton Street and Skokie Boulevard. Soballe has several prior arrests, including one that occurred two weeks before the alleged shooting, police said. In that instance, Soballe allegedly threatened two people unknown to him with a baseball bat after a traffic dispute, police said.
“We believe this suspect would have committed this act wherever these parties would have crossed paths," Scarpelli said. "It didn’t happen because of Skokie, it happened because Mr. Soballe was allegedly in conflict with the other person so wherever they crossed paths, he was going to do this.”
Overall Crime in Skokie -
Scarpelli noted that in 2011, there was a four percent reduction in reported offenses, which is the fourth year in a row crime has gone down in Skokie, he said.
He did say narcotic related crimes are up 19 percent thus far in 2012. Scarpelli added the increase might be the result of more focused efforts in drug related crimes.
Scarpelli went on to say leaving items unlocked is an invitation to trouble.
“A message we will continually put out is to lock up the bikes, lock up the sheds and lock the car door.”
Village officials also advocated neighborhood watches during the forum. Rigoni said 210 blocks in the village currently have watches.
To read the Skokie Police Department's most recent annual crime report, click here.
Traffic Safety -
As for the Vo accident in May, the driver has been charged and the village has ordered a traffic-engineering firm to look at safety around schools. Rigoni said lobbying efforts are underway in Springfield to install cameras in school zones to control speeding. According to Rigoni, Chicago is the only municipality in the state with the power to do that right now. He added that there have been 165 violations in the area of Man Street and St. Louis Avenue - where the accident occurred - over the past two-in-a-half-years.
“There is enforcement, but they can’t be at every single one of the 20 schools we have in Skokie at every rush hour,” he said. “But we have to get better. Whether it is signage or a traffic signal, everything is on the table.”
The Traffic Safety committee hopes to have their first public meeting on the matter sometime in early July and changes could be in place by the start of the 2012-13 school year.
Many other topics were raised at the hearing:
- Multifamily housing license – At the July 16th village board meeting, trustees are scheduled to discuss a proposal to put a $25 per unit fee on owners of multifamily housing. There are approximately 4,800 units in the village. The money would go towards the $122,000 annual cost of hiring a police officer who will be assigned to work within a program established to keep crime in multi unit homes. Dana Taylor, one owner of such a building, said that owners who live in the buildings themselves should not have to pay an extra $25 in an essence paying for themselves. Rigoni said that part of the plan could be hashed out by trustees.
- Police are doing what they can to clear out the parks at sunset, but that is not always easy, according to Scarpelli. “There are 41 parks in the village of Skokie. It is very difficult to go to 41 locations simultaneously.”
- Skokie officers are not required to live in the village, unlike their colleagues in Chicago. “We would have problems recruiting employees if we had residency requirements,” Rigoni conceded.