Fact-check: Orland Park mayor is correct in claim that southwest suburb’s crime at nearly three-decade low

In his bid for Congress, Mayor Keith Pekau is touting the downward turn in reported crimes during his tenure. While the statistics bear him out, there was a spike in violent crime his first year in office.

SHARE Fact-check: Orland Park mayor is correct in claim that southwest suburb’s crime at nearly three-decade low
Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau speaks at a campaign event for his GOP bid for Congress in Bridgeview earlier this month.

Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau speaks at a campaign event for his GOP bid for Congress in Bridgeview earlier this month.

From Facebook

Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau claims the village’s crime is the lowest it has been in 27 years.

Since Pekau first announced his Republican bid last year for Illinois’ 6th Congressional District, he has repeatedly touted Orland Park’s low crime numbers.

“We’ve reduced crime to its lowest level in 27 years,” Pekau said in a recent Facebook campaign ad with more than 88,000 views.

So, we decided to check.

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One of Pekau’s campaign spokesman said the mayor was referring specifically to index crimes, which include larceny, theft, motor vehicle theft, homicide, burglary, rape, aggravated assault, robbery and arson. These crimes are reported to the FBI to create its annual crime index. Illinois includes human trafficking in its list of index crimes.

When asked for evidence to back Pekau’s claim, the spokesman sent a presentation former Orland Park Police Chief Joe Mitchell gave to the Village Board during a meeting earlier this year. The chief showed the board a chart listing the number of crimes each year from 1996 through 2021. In 1996, there were 1,295 index crimes reported, compared to 628 in 2021.

Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau.

Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau.

From Facebook

We also checked the former chief’s numbers with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which collects crime statistics data from law enforcement agencies throughout the nation. The numbers match, at least through 2020. The southwestern suburb’s 628 reported crimes in 2021 have not yet been officially reported by the FBI. Never in the past 27 years have there been fewer reported crimes in Orland Park, the statistics show.

Mitchell told the board he credited his police force, new technology and community engagement for the downward trend. Mitchell also said a “crucial” tool has been a stepped-up social media campaign called “Wanted Wednesdays” in which the community is asked to help track down suspects.

Orland Park Police Department tweet requesting community information to help solve a pickpocketing crime at a local grocery store.

Orland Park Police Department ‘Wanted Wednesday’ tweet requesting community information on a theft at a local grocery store.

From Twitter

The report showed crime generally fluctuated over 25 years, including a spike in violent crime in 2017 — the year Pekau took office. The 35 reported violent crimes in 2017 was more than in any other year between 2012 and 2021, according to statistics provided by the police department.

Former Orland Park Police Chief Joe Mitchell presented this graph listing the number of crimes each year from 1996 through 2021. In 1996, there were 1,295 index crimes reported, compared to 628 in 2021. 

Image caption: Former Orland Park Police Chief Joe Mitchell presented this graph outlining crime statistics to the Orland Park Village Board in January.

Provided

We also reached out to Orland Park Police to determine whether any changes in police tactics or policies may have contributed to the downturn in crime reported to the department, but our phone messages were not returned.

Just because reported crimes are down in Orland Park doesn’t mean there is no crime problem. Consider the Orland Square Mall, which continues to be the “busiest beat” for criminal-related offenses, according to the suburban police department’s most recent annual report.

After several instances of shoplifting and brawls — some of which included gunfire, the mall owner Simon Property Group Inc. implemented a first-ever curfew last year. After 3 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, anyone younger than 18 must now be accompanied by an adult.

Our Ruling

Pekau claims crime in Orland Park is at its lowest level in 27 years. Index crimes are currently at their lowest, but the crime problems in some areas remain. Pekau also did not mention the high number of violent crimes reported in 2017, the year he took office.

We rate this claim True.

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TRUE – The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing.

TheBetter Government AssociationrunsPolitiFact Illinois, the local arm of the nationally renowned, Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking enterprise that rates the truthfulness of statements made by governmental leaders and politicians. BGA’s fact-checking service has teamed up weekly with the Sun-Times, in print and online. You can find all ofthe PolitiFact Illinois stories we’ve reported togetherhere.

Sources:

Keith Pekau Illinois’ 6th Congressional District Campaign Advertisement, April 11, 2022

Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Code

Illinois State Police Uniform Crime Reporting

Orland Park Village Crime Statistics Presentation, January 17, 2022

Orland Park Police Department 2019 Annual Report

Orland Park Police Department 2018 Annual Report

Orland Park Police Department 2017 Annual Report

Teen killed in Orland Square Mall Shooting Identified, NBC5 Chicago, January 22, 2019

Teens Brawl in Orland Square Mall, Patch.com, August 31, 2020

Orland Square Mall Youth Supervision Policy

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