LAKEVIEW — As he gets to know his new district, Town Hall Police Cmdr. Marc Buslik has been poring over crime data. At a neighborhood meeting Tuesday, he said the numbers suggest things are looking up in 2017, despite a recent series of high-profile sexual assaults and robberies.
At a meeting with South Lakeview Neighbors Tuesday night, Buslik compared the last 28 days — a four-week cycle starting Feb. 14 — with the same time frame over the last four years, which showed crime is down in nearly every major category, from burglaries to robberies to aggravated batteries.
Major crimes — defined by the FBI to include homicide, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, felony theft and theft from vehicles — have dropped 12 percent in the Town Hall District compared to the same 28 days in 2016, a year when Lakeview saw a sharp spike in crime that balanced out with a quieter end to the year.
Is crime down?
When comparing the last month with the average figure from the last four years, there have been 19 percent fewer reports of major crimes, Buslik said.
District officers also conducted more traffic stops and issued more tickets than during the same 28-day period last year, Buslik said. Officers are stopping more "suspicious people," as well, doubling stops made at this time last year, he said.
After Buslik shared his results during a Monday public safety forum, the anonymously run Crime in Wrigleyville + Boystown blog panned Buslik's message, accusing him of using "typical Chicago Police spin."
Using the weekly crime stats that the Town Hall District shares on Twitter, the blog said that major crimes might be down compared to 2016, but they still are higher than in 2015.
"So crime is 'down' 16 after skyrocketing up by 124," the blog wrote, using year-to-date figures through March 12.
Current data for the 19th District, week of 06 Mar 17 - 12 Mar 17. pic.twitter.com/11L2PALKpV— Chicago PD 19th Dist (@ChicagoCAPS19) March 14, 2017
Indeed, while police district figures show major crimes have dropped 3 percent compared to 2016, it remains 37 percent higher than in 2015, when the area enjoyed its lowest crime levels in at least a decade.
Crime totals this year
So far this year, the total number of reported crimes is 3.5 percent higher than the four-year average from 2013-2016, according to police data. In the relatively safe North Side district, that rise amounts to 17 more incidents than average over the first 71 days of the year, from 490 to 508 reports of major crime.
Robberies, aggravated batteries and burglaries are down slightly, while theft has slightly increased. There have been 17 percent more thefts from vehicles than average.
But those numbers are based on police-provided data, which has been called into question in the past.
Three years ago, reports surfaced suggesting the Chicago Police Department underreported crime, particularly the type of property crimes that more commonly affect Lakeview residents than homicides and shootings.
Police sources told Chicago magazine in 2014 that it was common to downgrade offenses, clump together multiple crimes as a single incident and discourage people from filing reports.
But Buslik is a numbers man — a 37-year police veteran with decades spent data-crunching and studying criminology. Recently, he provided data and other information to the Justice Department investigation that found the Police Department used excessive force caused by poor training and nonexistent supervision.
Since taking command of the Town Hall District in late 2016, Buslik has been a far more present figure compared to former Cmdr. Robert Cesario, who rarely attended neighborhood or community policing meetings in his 1½ years heading the district.
But like Cesario's predecessor Cmdr. Elias Voulgaris — now commander of the Albany Park District — Buslik has been a more accessible front man for the district, neighbors say. On Tuesday, he shared insight into how the Town Hall District has changed under his watch.
More police on the street
This week, the district received a handful of additional police officers that pushed its total manpower up to 393, the highest since before August 2013, Buslik said.
Among the additions are eight more sergeants, for 38 total; two more lieutenants for a total of nine; three more field training officers for nine total and seven more officers, Buslik said.
"That puts us in about the top third of personnel resources of all 22 districts," Buslik said. A fraction of officers are "detailed out" compared to the past, when more than 50 could be sent to work outside the district at a time.
"That does not take place any longer," Buslik told neighbors. "It's really just a handful, that for one reason or another, are detailed to special units because they have some particular expertise."
Buslik has organized some officers into tactical teams focused on specific crimes, like robbery and burglary. Another team of beat officers rides the Red and Brown lines to keep an eye out for would-be criminals who target victims near the "L" stations.
"We are all over the Red Line," Buslik said. "That was something I picked up on very shortly after getting to the district. We know it's a problem."
Buslik has also added foot patrols, which he said are "extraordinarily effective," on Belmont, Wilson and Southport avenues.
"I want officers talking to people," Buslik said. "Good guys love to talk to the police. The bad guys hate it, and what it does is force them to move on and know the police know who they are."
He's also hoping to create a position for a mental health resource officer, who Buslik suggested would facilitate training for crisis intervention officers and intervene with people who place "a disproportionate demand on the mental health treatment system."
The officer could "try to identify resources to intervene and lessen the burden not just on the Police Department, but on other players within the mental health system," Buslik said.
He brought an officer who specializes in mental health responses to the Town Hall District to pilot such a program, Buslik said.