High-crime in Austin has little impact on life in Oak Park

Crime by a different community

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By JULIA O'DONOGHUE

Lewis Taylor may live in the suburban community of Oak Park, but every night he parks his car in Chicago - in a lot directly across the street from his home.

"This parking lot has cameras. Mine doesn't. I have invested a lot of money in my car and I don't want anything to happen to it," said Taylor, as he worked on his Cadillac Thursday morning.

Taylor resides near Austin Boulevard, the dividing line between the mostly quiet suburb of Oak Park and the troubled West Side Chicago community of Austin. He could be correct in thinking that his car is safer in a lot with cameras, though local crime statistics lead some to think differently.

Oak Park, with about 51,900 residents, reported 64 vehicles stolen from within its borders in 2010. Austin's 15th Police District - with 59,500 residents - reported 532 vehicles stolen during the same year.

In fact, Oak Park has far fewer incidents than the Austin district in every prominent category of crime, even though the two communities are fairly similar in size. In 2010, there was just one reported homicide in Oak Park, compared with 18 murders in the Austin district.

"There is not as much trouble in Oak Park as there is in Chicago. That's for sure," Taylor said.

In general, the Oak Park police said they work well and coordinate often with the Chicago Police Department, particularly the Austin and Grand Central districts, which directly abut Oak Park.

Chicago and Oak Park police listen to each other's radio frequencies frequently. Oak Park's crime analyst often attends Chicago Police Department meetings about crime patterns and statistics.

"Our borders are porous so there is information sharing certainly," Oak Park Sgt. Michael Richardson said.

The Oak Park police are also allowed to pursue suspects who flee over the border into Chicago. In those cases, Chicago police officers often join the chase and help apprehend the suspect.

Many of the people who commit crimes in Oak Park are Chicago residents, though Richardson said that shouldn't be surprising. With 2.6 million residents, Chicago's population dwarfs that of Oak Park, so it is statistically more likely that a criminal would come from Chicago, he said.

Several Oak Park residents said they avoid going into Austin. Anne Huston, who lives two blocks from the Austin Boulevard border, said she only goes into Chicago about once a month.

"We don't walk over there. Folks from Chicago come over here, but we don't go over there much," said Huston.

Others said there is a fair amount of travel back and forth. Edward Smith lives in Austin, but works in Oak Park at a barbershop every day.

"With everything being so close, a lot of people have family and friends who live on both sides - in Austin and Oak Park," Smith said.

Taylor also goes back and forth across the border fairly often, if only to get his car from the Austin parking lot. Still, Taylor, who grew up in Chicago, said he prefers to live in Oak Park.

"It is a friendlier environment. There are no gang-bangers on the corner. It's peaceful," he said.

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