July 2, 2004

Burgled and helpless in Hyde Park

I push open the door but it is stuck. It is chained from the inside. How could it be chained? I peak inside and my stomach just churns. Something is wrong but I cannot believe it, cannot accept it. This is my house. I was scared to look inside my own house. What if someone were still inside? Should one of us go up the back? What if they have guns? They even knocked out the lights in the back. We stand downstairs and call the police. Completely distraught and in utter disbelief, we wait for more than 15 minutes. Where was the police? We then called University police who were on the scene in a few minutes.

The University police took names and notes on missing property. "They also chained the door on 54th and University." "The lock is not a dead bolt, it is easy to break." "Wait for the city police." I answer the phone and there is no answer. *69. Damn, they used my cell phone to call my house, those bastards.

At 12:45 A.M., an hour and 15 minutes later, the city police arrive. Routine questions: "how long were you out?" One officer walks through the building and the other officer takes notes. "Make a list of missing items." How can you just remember everything you may have ever had in your life? The other officer makes small talk. "You should have a dead-bolt." "Bad economy means more crime." "First warm night and people are going crazy." What can the police do? After an hour and a half of taking notes they depart—n hour and a half for paperwork for two officers. The police cannot prevent crime.

The two officers sit outside with another officer; they need to patrol the quiet street. An evidence technician arrives with an antiquated kit, "this will make a mess." ‘"Need smooth surfaces." He gathers some impressions. "Does not look like we got good prints." He takes our prints and leaves around 3A.M. The two officers are still outside, patrolling the quiet street. We try to go to sleep. Should we clean up? What? Where? How? Burglars turn everything upside down.

In the morning, I check my cell phone record. They used the phone constantly, dialed six different numbers. We trace one number to an address in the neighborhood. Voila, they will be caught soon. Perhaps the police will find my stuff, not expensive stuff, but stuff my mother gave me—my mother who passed away. The police "don't investigate," "you need to update your report with the detective division." But detectives don't work on weekends and there will be no detective assigned for four to five days. The University police cannot intervene. What does the city police do if not even follow up on important information? I feel in a time warp. If we could only convince the burglars to not work on weekends, plan a burglary and perhaps carry it out after 4-5 days.

Six days later there is a detective assigned, who does not work on Hyde Park or on burglaries. "Can you follow up on the phone numbers?" "I have to issue a subpoena." "But we matched two numbers to addresses." This routine continues for a week. We try to gather the pieces of our lives. Every other day I discover something else missing. They missed nothing, even stole the sneakers. From my house! And the police do not even attempt to follow up.

"It is difficult to solve burglaries." "Chicago's mayor wants to reduce homicides." "All city resources are on homicide." But did we learn nothing from New York in the 1990s? Every crime matters. Burglars graduate to other crimes. Criminals start out small, move on to burglary, then rape and then even murder. Will solving homicides reduce all other crime? Contrast my experience to that of a friend in New York, who had items stolen from her car trunk. There was a detective assigned on a weekend in a few hours after the report, who called them daily. I talk to the alderman. The mayor's priority is homicide. But what has this done to police's attitude? All other crimes have become so secondary that there is an attitude of indifference. What would have stopped these burglars from murdering someone if they could get away with it just as easily?

I give up after two weeks. A friend forwards me a story about two arrested burglars. Hey detective, "did you hear about the arrests?" "No." "Could they be linked?" "I will talk to the other detective working on the other case." Three days later, the detective uncovers that "the first number called from our cell phone was to the burglar's apartment." We had forwarded the phone numbers and addresses the day after the burglary, but simply to follow up on that it took the Chicago Police Department four weeks. Even a simple computer name check of the phone number would have revealed the burglar's criminal record, in less than 10 minutes! The detective did not have to even leave his desk.

How can Chicago remain indifferent to small crimes while other cities have made it a priority? I traced the phone numbers and addresses, simply on the Internet. Could the city not even assign a detective in 24 hours? Who could follow up on the information I researched? A number matched to a person with a 10+ year criminal record! They may have never recovered my stuff that my mother gave me, but at least prevent the pain and agony of other victims burglarized in the next three weeks. But alas that is a tall order for Chicago's Police Department. For me the options are simple, I can easily move out of the city that just does not care about everyday crime that affects the lives of common residents. I will never feel that sense of security ever again, never outside the house, but never in my house either.

Christina Julian is a college alumna. She lives in Hyde Park with her husband who is also an alum. They will be moving this summer.