Saying that local crime is “not just a government issue,” Mayor Dave Heilmann challenged village residents Tuesday evening to “step up” and “be more proactive” to make Oak Lawn a safer and better place.
He issued the challenge at a public safety town hall meeting at Kolmar Elementary School. About three dozen residents were in attendance in the school’s gym, with about twice as many empty folding chairs.
A similar town hall meeting in October at Hannum Elementary School attracted about 100 people. Some of those same people also filled the seats at Kolmar. A third meeting on public safety is set for 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6 at Covington Elementary School.
Heilmann said he wanted people to be a part of a citizen-driven planning process that would guide village crime prevention efforts “…not for one, two or three years; but five and ten years ahead.”
The mayor offered few details about the process, but urged everyone at the meeting to sign up to be on a committee to help lead the effort. Some stepped forward at the end of the meeting and did so.
“We (in Oak Lawn) live next to a mean, terrible city, or whatever people think of Chicago,” Heilmann added. “We want to say we have developed a (crime prevention) model that works.”
Heilmann was effusive in his praise of village police, saying they do “a phenomenal job.” His comments were echoed by Police Chief Bill Villanova, who talked about the importance of police and citizens working together and recapped several recent OLPD successes, including the Nov. 7 chase and arrest of a man accused of robbing several Radio Shacks at gunpoint.
Another main purpose of the meeting was to reacquaint residents with the village’s emergency notification system which was rolled out well over a year ago.
Kathleen Hansen, director of the village’s Emergency Communications Department, encouraged everyone to sign up for the alerts by visiting the village website and following the prompts. Parents may also sign up their children with cell phones to receive select alerts.
Several attendees asked specific questions about crime and other “quality of life” issues. One discussion topic was the possibility of gang crime spilling over to Oak Lawn from Burbank and Chicago Ridge.
Villanova explained that “internal frictions” between various Gangster Disciples factions in Chicago’s Ashburn neighborhood have affected surrounding areas. He acknowledged that there is gang activity in Oak Lawn, but the village does not “…have that open street market type of drug activity” found elsewhere.
Villanova theorized that some gangs may view Oak Lawn as a good, quiet place to keep safe houses; and he mentioned that two such houses were raided by federal drug agents, netting up to $4 million.
The chief also added that he wants children in the village given gang awareness and avoidance education a year earlier than they currently are.