LAKEVIEW — As police step up efforts to protect Lakeview residents from robberies, they've noticed a trend among local criminals: the use of mace or pepper spray.
Town Hall Police Cmdr. Elias Voulgaris told neighbors late last week that thieves arriving via "L" and car often target people leaving bars, wearing headphones or paying attention to their phone more than their surroundings. They then mace or pepper spray the victims and snatch their belongings.
Two years ago, a spate of robberies in the neighborhood also involved pepper-spraying the victim.
"We're seeing a lot of that now," he said. "That seems to be the weapon of choice."
Police have made 14 arrests recently, Voulgaris said, including of three people in front of Steamworks, 3246 N. Halsted St., in a robbery last Thursday around 9:35 p.m. The alleged thieves used mace against the victim.
Last week, police also sent out an alert regarding a group of robbers who used pepper-spray in two robbery incidents — once on Wednesday, Sept. 11 at 3:30 a.m. on the 900 block of West Belmont and again on Saturday, Sept. 28 at 4:10 a.m. on the 3500 block of North Sheffield.
And early last month, a woman was maced outside Ann Sather, 909 W. Belmont Ave., in a robbery attempt at 9:44 a.m.
Police have described the suspects as men, women and men dressed as women.
Detectives have been trying to tie the people in custody to past robberies, but it's been difficult, Voulgaris said. Many of the robberies occur late at night, after the victim has been drinking, and victims couldn't identify their offenders, he said.
Police cannot charge somebody for another robbery even if they suspect them unless there's a "positive identification," he said.
To avoid being a victim, police recommend being aware of surroundings — meaning no headphones and no phone-browsing while on the street. If you do end up being a victim, take note of the person's characteristics so that the attacker can be identified, police said.
Voulgaris has taken a beating this summer as neighbors have demanded more cops to counter high robbery statistics. A beat in Lakeview, 1924, has led the city in robbery numbers, but overall, robberies have dipped this year from last year.