Around 20 people attended the Neighborhood Watch meeting on May 18 at village hall, with another two dozen or so participating via Zoom. It was the first such meeting since before COVID-19 brought a halt to the monthly gathering of residents, led by Officer Nick Cannon.
In addition to Cannon, the meeting was run by Police Chief Tom Aftanas and Deputy Chief Ken Gross. At the start of the meeting, Aftanas said generally the Neighborhood Watch meetings haven’t drawn a crowd of more than 10. It is suspected that a seeming uptick in local crime and the recent issues on Madison Street may have drawn more residents to the meeting.
Updates on major recent crimes
Aftanas began by presenting an overview of some of the more violent crimes that have occurred in Forest Park over the past few months, including the armed standoff in January hear the corner of Marengo Avenue and Harvard Street; two juveniles shot near the corner of Madison Street and Desplaines Avenue; the shooting homicide near the Green Line stop on Harlem Avenue; the officer-involved shooting near Jimmy John’s on Circle Avenue just north of Madison Street; the shooting of an Oak Park police officer on Harlem Avenue near the I-290 expressway; the attempted stabbing at Madison Park Kitchen; and the recent carjacking/kidnapping of a woman.
The armed stand-off, Aftanas said, ended peacefully, with nobody injured and the shooter surrendering to officers. Sadly but not surprisingly, said Aftanas, all the major news sources reached out to him for information, but none was interested in reporting on the event when they learned that nobody had been shot.
The shooting of the two juveniles on Feb. 27 is believed to have been a targeted crime, said Aftanas, and although no arrests have yet been made, they “have a solid suspect” and anticipate making an arrest shortly, following approval or denial of pending charges. Neither of the juveniles suffered life-threatening injuries.
The homicide of a 25-year-old man near the Green Line train station was an incident that did not originate in Forest Park, said Aftanas. Rather, the shooter had been following the victim for some time from north on Harlem Avenue. The suspect was identified quickly and arrested after a 40-minutes police chase in Chicago. “I am confident we will get homicide charges approved,” said Aftanas.
Aftanas said the officer-involved fatal shooting of Tony Smith outside of the Circle Avenue Jimmy John’s is still being investigated by the Illinois State Police Integrity Unit. He summarized the attempted stabbing of a woman at Madison Park Kitchen, in which restaurant staff and other patrons stepped in to hold the assailant until police arrived and the carjacking/kidnapping of a woman on April 30, in which the suspect finally let her go and ended up in a crash in Riverside.
As for the shooting of an Oak Park police officer after a traffic stop originating in a FP domestic incident, Aftanas said that Cannon and another Forest Park officer’s quick application of a tourniquet and hurried transportation of the officer to an emergency room saved his life.
These crimes, said Aftanas, for the most part did not involve Forest Park residents and occurred close to the borders of other towns. He said they are “still concerning,” but added: “I still don’t feel that we’re less safe in Forest Park.”
Carjackings have been seen in higher numbers lately than ever before, but not just in Forest Park.
“It’s the most we’ve ever seen,” said Aftanas, stating that there have been six this year already and 24 in total last year. In 2019, there were only 3 and in 2017 only 7.
That trend, however, isn’t specific to Forest Park. “When Chicago sees a spike, we do too,” said Aftanas.
The good news is that in the last three car jackings in Forest Park, the offenders were apprehended.
The suspects in one of the most recent carjackings were two young teenagers, and Aftanas said many serious offenses are committed by juveniles, who aren’t held in custody as long as adults are.
The fact that they aren’t held in custody doesn’t mean they’re released without consequence, however. Aftanas said there’s a point system for juvenile offenders. An offender with “enough points” who is caught committing a crime gets taken to the juvenile detention center; otherwise, the offender is released to a guardian and must later attend juvenile court.
Crime by the numbers
Gross presented information about the busiest crime days (Tuesday and Saturday) in Forest Park and numbers related to different types of crime over the past few years.
2021 to date: 13
2021 to date: 2 (possibly low because more people are working from home)
Aggravated battery with a firearm
One so far this year, and none in the previous three years.
One so far this year. None in 2020. One in 2019. One in 2018.
Regarding the 11 p.m. bar closure ordinance
“This is nothing that I wanted to happen,” Aftanas said. “Nobody wants to close businesses.” He added that if solutions are brought up, he thinks the bars will be allowed to stay open later sooner than the ordinance directs.
Despite some people saying the problems are caused only by pop-up parties, Aftanas said that’s not the case, that there are individuals and groups of people going into and coming out of bars who are also responsible for issues on Madison Street.
The village is actively looking into options, said Aftanas, who had just finished participating in a meeting between the police department and bar owners. He also said that the village is forming an ad hoc committee to address the situation of crowds and crime on Madison Street.
How can residents help?
Residents can help, Aftanas said, by calling the police at 9-1-1 if they see anything that looks dangerous or suspicious, such as someone who appears to be drunk getting into a car or smoking marijuana where they shouldn’t.
“If you see something you think is strange, don’t hesitate to call,” Aftanas said. “Call us for anything you think is suspicious. Keep your eyes open.” He added: “There is a non-emergency line: don’t call it.”
Canon, who runs the Neighborhood Watch meetings, said he expects the meetings to pick up again now that COVID-19 appears to be slowing. The meetings are typically held the third Tuesday of every month at village hall. Visit forestpark.net for more information about upcoming meetings and events.