LAKEVIEW — You won't hear Lakeview's top cop talk statistics at community meetings anymore — even if numbers suggest that crime is down from the year before in the neighborhood.
Town Hall Police Cmdr. Elias Voulgaris said the biggest way to tell if things were going well was listening to feedback from residents. Besides, many in the community didn't believe police numbers anyway, he said.
"You'll notice I didn't bring up stats," he said at a recent community policing meeting. "No one believes the stats. The biggest barometer is feedback."
It was a rough summer for Voulgaris. At a heated August policing meeting, residents both decried the statistics showing crime was too high — a beat in Lakeview led the city in robberies — and questioned whether the official data could be believed.
Crimes are only documented when the victim files a report, and some neighbors and a well-read neighborhood crime blog, Crime in Wrigleyville and Boystown, frequently point out that not all robberies are documented.
The blog has taken on a popular hashtag, #crimeisdown, to express frustration. On one post about an alleged Wrigleyville robbery, the blog said police could not reach the victim, so the crime was not documented.
"So far, no report has been generated and thus, no 'crime' occurred," the post read. "Can't you just taste the crime rate falling?"
The #crimeisdown hashtag has been widely embraced on Twitter by everyone from crime bloggers to politicians as a way to call attention to the violence happening every day in the city's more dangerous neighborhoods. The hashtag is an apparent jab at the Chicago Police Department for touting lower crime numbers this year after a bloody 2012.
But police say using statistics is an important way to mark progress and strategize — and sharing stats is not meant to downplay how crime impacts city residents.
"Data is valuable tool to evaluate our progress, and while there has been less crime, fewer shootings and fewer murders in Chicago this year, there's also more work to be done and no one will rest until everyone in our city enjoys the same sense of safety," Chicago Police spokesman Adam Collins said in a statement.
But stats are "meaningless" when people just want to know what's being done to solve the problems they see, said Lakeview resident Michael Smith, who's been vocal about neighborhood crime issues. Focusing on stats evokes "evasiveness" and makes people think police are "pretending that nothing's happening," Smith said.
And it leads some to feel their concerns are being dismissed simply as a problem of "perception" — which angers and even insults some residents, Smith said.
"People can bend and stretch numbers any way they want," Smith said. "People are aware of what's going on. No one wants to sit in those meetings to have them crunch the numbers the way they want."
Voulgaris has clearly listened. He's become increasingly involved with community groups in recent months. He hasn't brought up the word "perception" in recent meetings, and his new approach is to focus on strategies rather than numbers.
In an October meeting, Voulgaris left out fliers saying he wanted to avoid the yelling and finger-pointing that plagued summer meetings.
"I’m going to be honest and frank about several of the issues," he said. "Whether you choose to believe it is up to you."
The new approach somewhat soothed Smith and a few others who are part of a core group of active neighbors. At least Voulgaris is "engaged and very candid about what can be solved," Smith said.
"People are willing to give him a chance," Smith said. "It was refreshing."
Voulgaris' new focus on gauging success through resident feedback does have one glitch: So far, only a small group of people have been in contact with him, he said.
Residents need to tell him about trouble areas that he needs to "beef up," he said. They need to email him the names, dates and locations of any problems or positives with an officer so that he can follow up.
"If I leave you with anything," he said at an earlier meeting, "it's the feedback I need more than anything."