By Manny Meraz and Ricardo Brum
The Ukrainian Village neighborhood where Norena was a victim of being robbed and being burglarized (Photo/Manny Meraz)
Gio Norena has lived in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood for over 20 years, from his childhood to his early adulthood. Ukrainian Village has been a good neighborhood for the last 10 years, so any crime of any kind is usually considered a rare occasion.
“I got pistol-whipped to the back of the head, and had no thought of fighting back to protect any of my valuables or belongings… all I was thinking about was coming out of this situation safe to go back to my child who had just been born and be able to continue to be a father to him, that was what was in my mind,” Norena said.
Norena got many belongings in his house stolen and even had his car stolen, which was found weeks later crashed and abandoned, but he was able to go back to his family safely.
His experience served as a lesson to the entire neighborhood: No area is too safe, and valuables aren’t worth fighting for.
Norena has said that since the pandemic, there has been a spike of crimes with people he knows in the neighborhood with burglaries and random robberies. “It seems that this type of stuff happens every day in Chicago,” he said.
Norena grew up in the neighborhood, went to elementary school and high school in the area, and has become familiar with everything that goes around the neighborhood he has always called home.
He grew up in a safe place in Chicago, but with recent spikes in crime, the Ukrainian Village, West Town and Wicker Park areas have been a target for burglaries and other crimes.
The area surrounding the Ukrainian Village, including Lincoln Park, Bucktown, Lakeview and the Near North Side, has seen 820 reported burglaries in from Jan. 1 to Nov. 13. Overall crime has been up 66% in the district since last year.
The figure is higher than the one seen in Austin, South Austin and West Garfield Park, 448, and surpasses the 576 burglaries reported in the South Chicago region, which include Bronzeville, Fuller Park, Kenwood, Hyde Park, Woodlawn and Greater Grand Crossing.
According to the Chicago Police Department, burglaries have been up 18% this year when compared to the same period of time in 2021. The overall number of reported incidents stands at 6,563 cases, to last year’s figure of 5,554.
According to the Chicago Police Department, overall theft has increased by 87 percent in the last two years and burglaries have been up 18 percent in the last year alone.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, any kind of crimes relating to theft have been at all times high with it continuing to rise year after year.
These crimes affect civilians as well as businesses. In March, a single burglary crew was allegedly responsible for 200 smash-and-grab thefts in the city, targeting bodegas, liquor stores, and high-end clothing retailers.
Their tactics involved smashing stores’ glass windows and doors with bricks, then proceeding to steal valuables from inside. In one of the incidents, the perpetrators caused over $150,000 in damages to the Burberry store on the Magnificent Mile.
Twelve percent of crimes reported in Chicago actually resulted in arrests by the Chicago Police Department, according to a statistical analysis done by the Chicago Sun-Times. A lot of that has to do with the fact that the Police Department has been understaffed since COVID-19 and many offenders are actually staying behind bars after arrests.
Officials say crimes related to theft are one of the harder crimes to convict offenders of simply because of the lack of evidence that surrounds these typical cases and the fact that many of these crimes have to be caught in the act for them to be considered good arrests.
When asked about conviction rates of suspects in crimes, former Chicago Police Officer Juan Sanchez said, “Yes, most of the time suspects go free, and a lot of that is because of the lack of evidence that happens where victims go into shock and forget the description.”
Sanchez also talked about the police department catching suspects in theft-related cases and the department not being able to build a case because of lack of evidence showing that the accused did it in the act, if the police was not able to catch clear photos of face description of potential suspects in these crimes.
“A lot of time suspects are back on the street in no time and there is no longer a case,” Sanchez said.
Another reason why theft has been on the rise has been because of new tactics used by the City where they have an active goal of reducing the population of Cook County jail and using electronic monitoring systems as a replacement for actually holding individuals in custody.
According to a case study by the Civic Consulting Alliance, the city has built this plan to reduce the population of Cook County Jail because of the money it costs to house an inmate costing Illinois taxpayers over $300 million a year to house inmates in the Cook County system.
Sanchez also said that the city and state have the goal to reduce the population of Cook County Jail because of the overpopulation and budgeting plans that are in place.
“Electronic monitoring systems have been an alternative to housing inmates, so more and more suspects are back out on the street,” Sanchez said.
Rahim Kurwa, an assistant professor in the Department of Criminology, Law and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago, attributes partial responsibility to the city’s rising crime on its budgeting practices.
“There are a number of studies that have come out that look at different areas of social safety net spending, like the expansion of health care services, the expansion of parks and mental health services and so on, that those kinds of social services, when they are expanded, crimes tend to go down,” Kurwa said. “When those types of services are disinvested from, crimes tend to go up.”
When questioned about potential solutions to fight burglary and crime statistics in the city, the professor criticizes social safety net spending cuts, a consequence of the fiscal crisis observed in the last decade.
In 2015, Illinois had $130 billion in unfunded pension obligations, causing various groups to sue the state for payment, leading to court decisions determining the state’s spending instead of legislators.
Between the years of 2002 to 2015, the state of Illinois did not meet a balanced budget a single time, prompting it to be labeled the state with the worst credit rating in the nation by Moody’s in 2010. The state’s fiscal irresponsibility has led to services like schools, hospitals, and criminal justice having its funds held up.
These issues with financing have only strained the city’s capacity to adequately respond to increasing crime, undermining its ability to allocate proper resources to crime-ridden regions.
“There is a lot of evidence that the solutions to these questions lie outside of the police,” Kurwa said.
BURGLARY PREVENTION TIPS FROM THE CHICAGO POLICE DEPARTMENT
- Lock all doors and windows
- Stop all deliveries when going out of town
- Play radio or television when away from home
- Maintain good relationships with neighbors and seek their assistance when leaving your home absent for longer periods of time
- Inscribe your Driver’s License number on valuables to assist the police in retrieving them. Engraving tools are available at your local Neighborhood Relations Unit
- Call and cooperate with the police
- Maintain Key Control. Change all locks when moving into a previously occupied unit
- Be aware of suspicious persons in your neighborhood, writing their description down if possible
- Add slide bolts to doors as an additional security measure
- Keep valuables (jewelry, money, etc.) concealed in separate, uncommon locations
- Online Crime Reporting tool by the CPD
- Chicago Police Services for the Death and Hearing Impaired
Phone: (312) 745-5841 (Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
- Call 3-1-1 to report a crime that is not in progress
- Chicago Police Department statistics