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My Plan for Public Safety

An Independent Candidate's discussion on Public Safety

By Brian Novak, candidate for Village Trustee

I'm generally a glass-half-full kind of person.  A realist, I know that we need to have a thoughtful and sensible discussion about public safety, and it needs to include more than merely quoting crime data. 

As an independent running for Skokie Trustee, public safety is my FIRST priority, and if I am elected, it will be the topic of the FIRST discussion I will have with the Mayor and my fellow trustees.  The people of Skokie deserve leaders who know that there is no more important commitment the Village can make than ensuring their safety – and leaders who are willing to act on this principle. Our public safety is crucial to the success of our community – now and in the years to come. 

We have had enough headlines reporting that Skokie’s overall crime stats have been declining in recent years. We have had enough cries about declining public safety that don’t include concrete ways to address the issue. We have had enough dismissal of discussion of hiring additional police officers based solely on the cost which it entails.

Instead, our community needs and deserves leaders who not only acknowledge issues but also offer concrete paths toward solving problems – while facing the reality that we must invest in public safety, even if it means making adjustments elsewhere. Thus, my plan for public safety includes the following:  

  • Comparing Skokie’s law-enforcement employee numbers with those of other local communities
  • Evaluating what tools are at our disposal to keep Skokie safe
  • Leading a discussion on how the perception of crime affects our sense of community

 

Residents should be extremely proud of the Skokie Police Department and its officers.  Their commitment to our safety is apparent, and it is commendable.  In addressing public safety issues below, in no way am I suggesting that my ideas are a substitute for the experience and expertise of the SPD.  However, as trustee I can guarantee my commitment to giving the SPD the support it needs to ensure – and to enhance – the continued safety of our community.   

Statistical comparisons with neighboring communities

According to the 2011 Crime in the U.S.statistics published by the FBI:

  • Skokie has 2.14 “law-enforcement employees” per 1,000 residents.  This puts our community behind Evanston (3.00), Lincolnwood (3.41), Niles (2.24) and Morton Grove (2.49).
  • With the fewest law-enforcement employees, Skokie has the second-highest violent crime rate (behind Evanston) at 2.17 per 1,000 residents, compared with Evanston (2.38), Lincolnwood (.55), Niles (.74) and Morton Grove (1.07). 
  • Skokie ranks in the middle of the pack with respect to property-crime rates at 26.52 per 1,000 residents, compared with those of our neighboring communities: Evanston (28.46), Lincolnwood (44.90), Niles (23.58) and Morton Grove (16.07).  

 

These statistics show that Evanston has approximately 10% more violent crime, but it has 40% more law-enforcement personnel than Skokie has. Comparatively, Lincolnwood has 70% more property crimes, and 60% more police personnel than Skokie has.  Morton Grove and Niles have significantly lower rates of violent crimes than Skokie has, while these communities also have the benefit of comparatively larger police forces.  Therefore, it is apparent that the Skokie Police Department is understaffed compared with police departments in neighboring communities. 

The 2012 National Citizen Survey reported that the number of crime victims in Skokie appears to be increasing.  In 2003 the citizen survey reported 11% of respondents having been crime victims; in 2006, 12%; in 2009, 13%; and in 2012, 16% of respondents reported they had been victims of crime.  However, the 2012 survey also reported that those who were victims of a crime were less likely to report it to the police.  Of those reported to be victims in 2009, 79% reported this to the police, but in 2012 only 71% of crime victims did.  Does that mean that in the last few years fewer crime victims are coming forward?  If so, why?

The Skokie Police Department publishes only the number of crimes that are reported.  The statistics that the Village of Skokie leadership is promoting as a decrease in crime refers only to this “reported” crime rate.  If 8% fewer people are reporting crimes over the last three years, what does that indicate about the actual crime rate in Skokie?

Additional Law-Enforcement Employees

The discussion above indicates that by hiring 10% more law enforcement employees (most or all of whom would be sworn police officers), Skokie will be in line with the police personnel capacities of Morton Grove and Niles. The addition of 10 or 11 sworn Skokie officers would increase police presence on Skokie streets, a deterrent that would be one important tool for reducing crime rates to proportions more in line with those of neighboring communities.

The need for more officers is evident in the numbers, yet the current Skokie leadership persists in focusing on the slight overall decrease in the crime rate without putting it in context. This context requires consideration of 1) comparative police staffing and crime statistics for neighboring communities; and 2) the emerging pattern of specific types of violent street crime in Skokie that occurs regularly in specific geographic areas of the Village, as frequently reported by local media.

The cost of hiring additional police officers is significant and cannot be denied. To this I respond: 1) It is incumbent upon Village leaders to conduct a thorough and transparent re-evaluation and re-prioritizing of existing Village revenues (without levying additional property taxes) toward this end; and 2) Hiring additional police officers is an important tool the Village can use to enhance public safety – but it is not the only one. Other measures can be taken to supplement – but not to substitute for – the hiring of additional police officers.

 Supplementary Tools

  • Radar speed signs: Skokie currently has only two radar speed signs that flash how fast speeding drivers are going.  Each of these signs costs $5,000 to $8,000, mostly one-time expenditures (with additional costs associated with downloading data, moving signs to new locations, etc.).  As these devices have been shown to be effective in reducing speeding, thus freeing up police offices for other tasks while not compromising traffic safety, the Village of Skokie should consider purchasing more of them.
  • Neighborhood Watch: The Skokie Police Department has worked diligently to promote the Village’s Neighborhood Watch program, which currently has more than 200 residential blocks participating. This longstanding program has many benefits – from learning how to recognize and identify problems in specific areas to increasing police communication by bringing the community together to teach us how to make our neighborhoods safe.  As a formal program however, Neighborhood Watch is not a panacea, as it speaks primarily to residents who are particularly motivated, leaving many areas in the Village uncovered by this useful program.
  • Additional law-enforcement facilities: Discussions regarding the implementation of satellite stations/sub-stations/community stations in our community are necessary.  Police substations bring the police closer to neighborhoods with high levels of criminal activity, and data indicate that this can help reduce crime and improve residents’ feelings of safety.
  • Police community outreach: Programs that increase a sense of community in our neighborhoods are effective tools for cooperation and fear reduction. For example, the Skokie Police Department’s “Know Your Officer” campaign is an effective community-outreach tool that encourages residents to get to know police officers and to work with them to make their neighborhoods safer.

Perceptions of crime/community building

Residents who sense cohesion, trust, and value sharing among their neighbors report less fear of crime. Thus, the Village should make a dedicated effort to strengthen neighborhood organizations in order to engender a sense of community cohesion among residents.

According to the 2007 National Citizen Survey in the Village of Lincolnwood*, residents there felt safer than those who lived in Skokie in 2003, 2006, 2009, or 2012 with regard to violent crimes, property crimes and neighborhood safety (during the day and night).

Now, why do people in Lincolnwood, which in 2011 had a significantly higher property-crime rate (44.90), feel safer than residents of Skokie (where the rate was 26.52)?  This is an important question deserving of Village leaders’ attention – because when people decide where to live, they tend to compare one community with its neighboring communities rather than focusing on where a community stands relative to national benchmarks.

Comparing results from the 2003 and 2012 National Citizen Surveys – which the Village of Skokie voluntarily commissions every three years – provides a useful starting point for a discussion of why Skokie residents appear to feel less safe in our community over time. In 2003, 73% of respondents said they felt safe in downtown Skokie after dark, whereas by 2012 that number dropped to 66% – a decrease of 7%.  More troubling, though, was the decrease in the feeling of safety in one’s own neighborhood after dark, which decreased by 13% from 78% in 2003 to just 65% in 2012.  Further, residents reported feeling less safe from violent crime (12% fewer) and property crimes (13% fewer) between 2003 and 2012. In addition to promoting the positive indicators of the National Citizen Survey, Village leaders must also address these less-than-positive trends.  

What people perceive is usually what they believe, and it is based on what they see, hear and think.  We need trustees who recognize the importance of data, but who also realize that public safety is more than merely crime statistics.  Village leaders must understand this and must act on it. This is the beginning of a real discussion, and I pledge to lead that discussion when I am elected.

I am asking for your support. Vote Brian Novak, independent candidate for Village Trustee, on Election Day, April 9. To learn more about my candidacy, please visit my website at www.novakforskokie.com.

*2007 is the most current Village of Lincolnwood Survey

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

shp February 13, 2013 at 01:41 PM
Thank you Brian for writing an article so truthful and thoughtful that speaks to what, I believe, the majority of Skokie residents have been saying for several years. Affirmation goes a long way! I would also like to add that Evanston has the Northwestern University campus Police Department who work with the City of Evanston Police. There are 3 shifts manned by sworn police officers totallly an addition 15-20 officers. One other tool I would add to the list for Skokie would be the landlord licensing ordinance. Stats have shown there are problems in multi-family housing (apartments) in Skokie and this would help the landlords get rid of bad tenants more quickly.
shp February 13, 2013 at 02:10 PM
Please vote for independent candidates in the upcoming April election. Early voting in March. It's time for a change in Skokie not more of the same as I just read the armed robbery story that happened in the Taco Bell parking lot and the gun shots fired in an apartment. Crime is down? Please.
Seymour J. Schwartz February 13, 2013 at 08:34 PM
Candidate for Trustee Brian Novak's Plan for Public Safety is a first rate analysis and and excellent specific plan to deal with arguably the most important and serious issue facing Skokie residents--the rise of blatant publicly open violent crime. Not only does Brian recognize this being of the highest priority, he has thoughtfully shared with voters a sound prescriptive plan of action demonstrating an understanding of all the issues surrounding this problem. Compare this with the pablum fed to us by the three new Trustee candidates endorsed by the only party viable in Skokie, the Caucus Party. These candidates expressed the so-called Party Line, talking points focusing on the relatively meaningless fact that overall crime has continued to decline in Skokie and a vague commitment to increase manpower. I don't blame these Caucus Party candidates for accentuating the positive and de-accentuating the negative or problem. That's what political parties in power, let alone the the only significant party in town, do. Their purpose is to stay in power and win elections and maybe even intend to serve the Village well. Why rock the boat and risk controversy? I don't blame the Caucus Party and its candidates. Who would not do it differently if they were in their position? --Part 1--
Seymour J. Schwartz February 13, 2013 at 08:56 PM
--Seymour Schwartz --Part 2-- Continued I believe the new Caucus endorsed candidates, like the Caucus Village Trustees and Mayor, have the best of intentions to serve the citizens of Skokie well. But quality new blood in Village governance not beholden to any political party constraints are important to bringing new perspectives, initiatives, vitality, and excitement to our governance. They have no vested interests in defending that which has not been so effective in the past, but instead can bring boldness and forward looking reach challenging the old verities of political conventional wisdom. Together with the experience of the old hands such as Mayor Van Dusen and some of the other Trustees, these newcomers, with no strings attached to their resumes, will surely serve the Village well. Every organization needs a fresh perspective willing to push the envelope. All the new Caucus Trustee candidates have worked their way up the Caucus Party ladder to earn their rewarded endorsement to run for office. But what the Village needs are some fresh faces to stir things up. This is what the founders of the Caucus Party did including both Democrats and Republicans in challenging the political power of the Scotty Krier machine in power in the 1950s. With this upcoming election, Skokie is blessed with some truly capable independent candidates offering us a choice, not to replace the Caucus Party, but as an addition to strengthen, not a party, but Skokie governance.
rzdw92 February 13, 2013 at 09:41 PM
I'm generally very supportive of the independent candidates over the Caucus party candidates. But since you put stats up, that's an invitation to pick them apart. I'll take you up on it...(Schwartz-style, Part 1) - Skokie may have lower police employee-per-resident ratio but that can be a misleading and overly simplistic stat. To draw more meaningful conclusions, you would have to drill down a bit more: what are the officers assigned to? How many work violent crimes vs. non-violent? How many detectives? etc. Those ratios would be a bit more meaningful. Maybe the real answer is not just increasing staff but also shifting assignments appropriately? - Where is the proof that simply adding officers is a deterrent? The numbers from Evanston contradict that. Evanston has a higher officer-to-resident ratio yet they have a higher violent crime rate. In fact, Chicago's officer ratio is more than twice Niles' yet I don't think anyone thinks that Chicago's violent crime rate is half of Niles'. Part of the answer I believe is: demographics is important too.
rzdw92 February 13, 2013 at 09:42 PM
Part 2... - Comparing Lincolnwood Citizen Survey of 2007 to Skokie of 2009 or 2012 is not a valid comparison. Presumably Lincolnwood has also changed since 2007. - Regarding the suggested "Supplementary Tools", those may or may not be effective solutions but what is Mr. Novak running for? Village Trustee or Police Superintendent? Will it be Mr. Novak's job as Trustee to implement and manage these kinds of programs? If his suggestions fail, whom do we hold accountable? The trustees or the police? Coming up with a laundry list of suggestions for a particular department is all well and good, but is a police hat really included with the job? It makes me wonder if a Trustee Novak is going to meddle around micromanaging the police, or will he keep his sight on the bigger picture: bringing vision to the village? I'd rather he set goals for them and hold them accountable for the results. Not foist his own solutions, well intended or not, on them.
Seymour J. Schwartz February 14, 2013 at 03:57 AM
rzdw92--In your last paragraph you are not being very fair to Brian Novak's position. In his first public statement published in the Patch, he focused mainly on economic development, just as detailed and well thought out as this piece. In addressing the problem of public safety, this has become one of if not THE major issue of this campaign. Only one other candidate has really addressed this issue with detailed specificity, and she is the other independent candidate. It is the issue of most concern to the public as it very well should be in my opinion. It is the issue that has been largely understated by those in power. It is the issue that Village officials have taken a positive initiative toward addressing in the proposed multi-housing development ordinance focusing in those very areas where it is proven that most violent street crime in the Village is occurring and in return they have received much flack undeservedly by many landlords. Possibly this left them a little gun shy in being more forthcoming. Au contraire, Brian is not meddling and micromanaging; he is talking about serious issues bringing intellect, sensitivity, and courage to his discussing major issues--something that most reasonable persons would contend is exactly what good candidates should be doing in a political campaign. BTW, rzdw92 (I want to say R2D2), you are right about the inherent difficulties comparing stats in diff. towns. But comparisons do help bring some light to things.
Eugene Salganik February 15, 2013 at 04:35 PM
Socioeconomic issues are the cause of most problems. Police force provides part of the solution, but can't not fix the root of the problem. Kind of like medications that make you feel a little better, but do not fix the underlying health issue. Do we have a vision or a comprehensive plan to make our Village vibrant, safe, and desirable? You tell me.

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