Suburbs, like rest of country, reporting more hate crimes

  • Regina Brent

    Regina Brent

  • Armando Vega

    Armando Vega

 

Two years ago, the suburbs managed to buck a national trend when it came to the rising number of reported hate crimes across the country.

Not so in 2016, according to data released this week by the FBI.

According to the FBI, there were 29 hate crimes reported last year by law enforcement agencies in the suburbs, up from 22 in 2015 and 24 in 2014. That mirrors a 23 percent increase in Illinois.

Nationally, hate crime reports were up 5 percent, with the biggest increases coming in offenses targeting Muslims and whites. Overall, the majority of racially motivated hate crimes target blacks. Offenses against Jews account for more religiously motivated hate crimes than all other faiths combined.

Of the 29 hate crimes reported in the suburbs, 24 were racially or ethnically motivated, according to the FBI. Three were based on sexual orientation, and single reports were taken on offenses motivated by religion and gender identity.

Among towns in the Daily Herald coverage area, Aurora saw the most, with three. Police spokesman Dan Ferrelli said all three involved racist graffiti targeting black residents: one on the garage door of a biracial couple, another on a steel beam in a business and the third on four doors at an elementary school.

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Other communities that reported hate crimes last year include Algonquin, with two, and Wheeling, Downers Grove, Elk Grove Village, Grayslake, West Chicago and Crystal Lake, with one each.

Fighting back

Police and suburban groups that work to combat prejudice aren't taking the trend lying down.

Regina Brent, president of Unity Partnership, said her group is working with police chiefs in DuPage County and surrounding communities to come up with a way to better monitor hate crime activities in the suburbs.

"The police we've worked with have a very good open-door policy, and we look forward to that request coming to fruition," said Brent, whose organization was founded last year to build better relationships between police and minority residents.

Skip the warmup

Nobody enjoys spending the first five minutes of a commute on a chilly winter day waiting for the car to warm up enough to get some heat going.

But police suggest you resist the temptation of leaving your car to warm up before you go. It's bad for your vehicle, your gas mileage and the environment ... and great for thieves.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We've taken five recent reports of cars that were stolen in just this manner," Aurora police said last week. "When the vehicles were found, it was discovered that juveniles stole the majority of them. Remember, vehicles left running unattended are perfect for car thieves -- they simply 'get in and go.'"

Some other downsides: Insurance companies may not cover losses if they deem a car owner negligent, and police can write tickets for vehicles left running unattended on public property. And in at least one Aurora case, the stolen car later was used in the commission of a crime.

"Bottom line? Please don't leave your car, truck or van running unattended. It WILL get stolen," Aurora police say.

Do as we say?

So then why do we often see squad cars left idling, sometimes with no one in them?

Batavia Deputy Chief Shawn Mazza, who oversees the department's fleet, offers a couple of explanations.

First, all the computer equipment, radar units, radios, lights and sirens need power, and keeping the cars running makes sure they get it. Also, all that technology needs to be kept at a moderate temperature.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Then there's officer comfort.

"The patrol vehicle is the 'office' for our patrol officers for up to an eight-hour period," Mazza told us. "We want our officers operating in the field, and therefore they need to spend a significant amount of time in their vehicle. Much like your office and mine has heat and air conditioning to keep the climate at reasonable temperatures, I want our officers to be in a climate-controlled environment as well so that they can comfortably do their jobs."

As for being unattended? There are anti-theft systems that allow an officer to pull out the ignition key while the squad car is running, preventing anyone who comes along from shifting from 'park' to 'drive.'

Reversible error

A poor choice of words by a Kane County prosecutor more than two years ago has led to a new trial for an Elgin man accused (and previously convicted) of being a sexual predator.

A state appeals court on Tuesday unanimously tossed out the conviction and 37-year prison sentence of Armando Vega. A jury found Vega guilty in February 2015 of sexually assaulting and abusing a young girl between 2007 and 2011.

Jurors reached that verdict after listening to a closing argument in which a prosecutor derided Vega, 51, for telling an investigator "he doesn't think he raped her."

The problem? Vega never said that. He told the investigator he didn't "touch" the girl.

That was enough for the appellate court to throw out Vega's conviction.

"Whereas defendant repeatedly denied that he 'touched' (the victim), the prosecution suggested that defendant essentially admitted that he touched her, denying only that he should be criminally liable for doing so. This argument misled the jury about the facts and was thus error," the court ruled.

Prosecutors are discussing their options for how to proceed with the case, said the Kane County state's attorney's public information officer, Chris Nelson.

Epidemic worsening

Kane County Coroner Rob Russell says his office is on pace this year to investigate a record number of deaths related to the use of opioids. It could break the record set in 2016, he says.

There was a "flurry" of 12 drug deaths in October, including three days with two deaths apiece, he said.

• Got a tip? Send an email to copsandcrime@dailyherald.com or call (847) 427-4483.

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