Counting Crime In DeKalb's Largest Apartments

Jul 26, 2019

This piece is part three in a series about housing conditions in DeKalb. Tune in Friday, August 2, for the last update in this series.

Last week, we took a look at the controversial history between the city of DeKalb and Hunter Properties, a large local rental property owner. A network of DeKalb community efforts are addressing crimes reported at apartments, which have recently been under the microscope.

It’s summer in DeKalb’s University Village, and that means it’s time for camp.  

Kids play at Camp Power on June 23. This photo was taken by 10 year old camper Malik. He said his favorite part about camp was the field trips around the community.
Credit Malik Brooms

Around 70 kids are enrolled in Camp Power at the complex, including 13-year-old Dearey.

It’s her first year here, and she already has some achievements under her belt. Like winning the camp talent show with a dance troop she led herself after starting and quitting a few times...

“I made the dances up stuff and we played music - age appropriate music though!” she said.

...And changing the way she expresses anger...

“I used to just be like...I just used to explode right there and I did not care. But now, over the time, it's like [Camp Power] helped me calm down a little bit,” she said. 

She says mentors help her learn how to walk away and collect herself when she’s frustrated with others. One of those mentors is 21 year old Director Tatyana Curtis. She grew up in the area when she was a young kid, which she says helps her relate to campers.

“I do feel that our program is a really good program for the kids because we watch the way that they talk to one another, we watch the way that they behave physically with one another, and just how they interact with one another in general,” said Curtis.

Camp Power began in 2014 to give kids a safe and positive place to spend the summer.  According to the city website, Camp Power is an effort to “decrease youth delinquency.” The camp is also a place for education, life skill development, and engagement with local partners like law enforcement. 

This program is at the intersection of crime reduction, community effort, and housing. 

A mural of Camp Power is painted on one of the walls at the DeKalb Police Department.
Credit Sarah Jesmer

“There's a lot of great kids out here,” said Curtis. “They have so much potential and it's just like, please stop labeling my kids and take off their stigmatism and stereotypes and just come out and see them, because they're great.”

Camp Power is just one of the things that have made a difference in quality of life and crime reduction in that complex, says Interim Police Chief John Petragallo. 

“There's been a change,” said Petragallo. “The calls for service are still there, unfortunately, you know, domestic disputes seem to be on the rise. But overall, it's got a different feel,” he said. 

Contributors to that ‘feel’ might be the numerous community members working with residents at the Village like the DeKalb County Community Gardens or Northern Illinois University. 

A study has been prepared by DeKalb Police Commander Craig Woodruff that looks at crime within the city’s 9 largest apartment complexes.

A draft excerpt from a recent police study into crime at apartments in DeKalb provided to WNIJ.

It counts all police reports from October 2011 through 2018, ranging broadly from parking violations to homicides. The number of reports is compared to the number of housing units at each complex. 

This simple comparison is only a measurement. It doesn’t speak to whether crime rates are up or down at any place. University Village has the second highest ratio of incidents per unit - 439 police reports for 534 apartments.

Petragallo says the reason the Village is seeing an increase in quality of life is because ownership invited the help.

“The University Village complex is under new ownership within recent times,” he said, "They take pride in the property, they renovated most if not all, they contacted us and asked to collaborate with them and their surveillance system, where to put cameras, they wanted our investigators’ expertise.”

The highest police incident to housing unit ratio belongs to Hunter Properties. This study zeros in on crime at Hunter buildings since the time they were bought through 2018. Rates rise like a steep hill at most Hunter addresses since 2016 and 2017.

Why?

“I mean that's the million dollar question. And I know that's what everybody wants to know,” said Petragallo.

Petragallo said engagement and strategic proactive policing efforts in higher crime areas have contributed to a decrease in overall crime in the city since 2017 and 2018.

"One of the ways that we do that is through our Problem Oriented Policing. So we look at crime data, and calls for service, areas that are inflicted with more crime or whatever the quality of life concerns. We deploy more resources, and generally there are more cops," he said.

The police don't pick where crime happens, they just respond to it, said Petragallo.

"There's a lot of good people up there that want to see a change, and we're doing everything we can do to make a positive change there," he said.

Carl Leoni is the Crime Free Housing Coordinator in DeKalb. 

“There's studies out there that show declining properties tend to have higher crime rates,” said Leoni.

At one point, code enforcement was also part of Leoni’s job. 

“The criminal issues seem to rise when Hunter takes over a property. Now, that's anecdotal,” he said.

Leoni said without maintained properties: 

“Then the only people who want to live there are people who can't get property elsewhere, whether they have poor credit, criminal histories, whatever,” he said. “So then, because you can't rent your property to anybody because you let it become dilapidated, you'll take anybody because it's better to get a few months rent out of somebody and then kick them out, than they have no rent coming in at all.”

University Village and Hunter Properties make up a lot of the Annie Glidden North neighborhood. The city created a revitalization plan to improve quality of life and safety. 

Clay Campbell, the attorney for Hunter Properties, said Hunter representatives were not invited to be part of the formation of the plan. 

Petragallo says things like lighting and proper cameras help chip away at overall crime rates.

“If there's an uptick in crime, regardless of what the crime is, and they - any property owner - has a system, but maybe non functioning cameras, we always want to see those cameras work, especially in a place that's being inflicted by things,” Petragallo said.

Only the owners or managers of private properties can implement and maintain camera systems in apartments. Police can only encourage it. 

Efforts like these can be funded through the Community Development Block Grant. These are federal infrastructure funds

They’re budgeted for 5 years in advance as part of a consolidated plan, says Joanne Rouse, the Community Services Coordinator. 

“We have the potential in this coming plan to do street lighting in the Annie Glidden North neighborhood,” she said. 

DeKalb’s 2019 funds are near $400,000. It’s meant only for programs or projects that benefit low and moderate income residents. 

Rouse says the public has until August 12 to let the city know where they think more support is needed.  

She said, “The more people participate, and the more information we have, the better it's going to be for everybody.”

Next week, we’ll take a look at jurisdiction and resolution when it comes to addressing housing conditions.