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Palos Heights among safest towns in Illinois

PalosSafestCityPic361

People relax at Memorial Park June 15 as they listen to a live music performance from the gazebo as part of the Concerts in The Park series held this summer. Palos Heights has been named among the safest cities in Illinois.

Photo by Anthony Caciopo

 

 

Palos Heights is one of the safest communities in Illinois, according to a list compiled by the home security website SafeWise.

The web-based company, which provides consumers with information about home security systems, monitoring and techniques, based its current list of the 50 safest municipalities in Illinois (population of 5,000 or more) on the FBI’s 2015 crime report.

Cities with fewer than 5,000 residents as well as any cities that failed to submit a complete crime report to the FBI were not considered.

Palos Heights ranked No. 17 on the SafeWise list. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of Palos Heights in 2016 was approximately 12,400. The city covers approximately four square miles.

“It comes down to the great family values along with a great police department that we are lucky to have here in Palos Heights,” said Mayor Bob Straz.

As part of the statistics the City of Palos Heights submits to the FBI each year, zero “violent crimes” were reported in the city in 2015, which is mentioned on the SafeWise list.

Violent crimes include aggravated assault, murder, criminal sexual assault and arson, according to Deputy Police Chief William Czajkowski.

The average violent crime rate among the top 50 towns on the SafeWise list was 86 percent lower than the national average. The state’s 50 safest cities reported one murder, 67 robberies, and fewer than 300 aggravated assaults.

Property crime rates were also exceptionally low among these safest communities. No municipality cited more than nine property crimes per 1,000 residents—with the average rate being about six crimes per 1,000 people. That’s 77 percent lower than the national average.

“It’s nice to be recognized,” said Czajkowski about the list. “I attribute it to the men and women of the department. They do a fine job,” he said.

“Our department averages between 10,000 and 12,000 traffic stops per year,” said Czajkowski. “It’s part of Chief (Larry) Yott’s philosophy, the high visibility. If you look at towns around us, their traffic stops are significantly lower, by the thousands.

“We definitely say that making so many stops throughout the year helps deter crime and tends to keep people who are going to do crimes away from Palos Heights,” said Czajkowski.

Although only a small percentage of traffic stops result in criminal charges, the number of DUI arrests is relatively high.

“We do close to 200 DUIs a year, and that’s a very significant number for the size of our department,” said Czajkowski. There are 28 sworn officers in the Palos Heights Police Department, three of whom are “detailed out to federal agencies,” he said.

“Based on that, we receive federal asset-sharing monies. That allowed us to build the current police station, it allows for (the purchase of) much of our equipment and it allows us to pay the overtime out of drug asset forfeiture for these traffic initiatives,” said the deputy chief. “The overtime doesn’t come out of the city’s coffers.”

Czajkowski estimated the department has received approximately $8 million to $10 million of such funding over a 15-year period.

“We have the best equipment because of that and it really doesn’t cost the taxpayers any money, which is nice.”

Typically, per shift, Czajkowski said that a watch commander and 3 to 4 officers are patrolling the streets of the city.

“Our officers are seeing a lot of different things they didn’t see 10 years ago,” he said. “Of course, with conceal-carry they’re encountering people now who legally possess weapons.”

Czajkowski said that some traffic stops have even revealed people on terrorist watch lists.

Another sign of changing times affecting law enforcement agencies is the nationwide opioid-abuse crisis. Palos Heights officers, like many departments in surrounding towns, carry Narcan, the trade name for naloxone, an opiate antidote.

“We’ve had a couple of ‘saves’ already this year, he said. “Each of our officers carries two doses.”

Czajkowski says the department now has Polish-speaking officers, Spanish-speaking officers and two that are conversational in Arabic.

Joining Palos Heights in the top 50 are more than a dozen communities in Cook County, including the southwestern suburbs of Willow Springs (No. 9), Palos Hills (No. 21) and LaGrange Park (No. 19).

Some other southwestern suburbs made the list of the top 100 safest cities including LaGrange (No. 56), Justice (No. 82) and Hickory Hills (No. 84).

Neighboring communities on the top 50 list include Western Springs (No. 4) and Burr Ridge (No. 45).

Some other southwestern suburbs made the list of the top 100 safest cities including LaGrange (No. 56), Justice (No. 82) and Hickory Hills (No. 84).

The average violent crime rate among the top 50 towns on the SafeWise list was 86 percent lower than the national average. Palos Heights was among the communities on the list that cited no violent crimes at all. The state’s 50 safest cities reported one murder, 67 robberies, and fewer than 300 aggravated assaults.

Property crime rates were also exceptionally low among these safest communities. No municipality cited more than nine property crimes per 1,000 residents—with the average rate being about six crimes per 1,000 people. That’s 77 percent lower than the national average.

Several communities moved up the list compared to last year, especially Palos Heights, which ranked as the 86th safest city in the state in 2016 and now ranks 17th. Willow Springs moved up to 9th from 15th.

SafeWise said open communication may be one factor helping Palos Heights become a safer place to live, work, and play. The Palos Heights Police Department’s online crime blotter, published each week in The Regional News, and Neighborhood Watch reports keep citizens informed about crime, while its Facebook page helps encourage discussion about potential community problems.

From there, SafeWise evaluated the remaining communities. The list included the number of reported violent crimes (aggravated assault, murder, rape, and robbery) and property crimes (burglary, arson, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft) in each municipality. To level the playing field, SafeWise calculated the likelihood of these crimes occurring out of 1,000 people in each city.

The list does not include towns with fewer than 5,000 residents as well as any that failed to submit a complete crime report to the FBI.

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