Robberies in Chicago are at 6-year high, surpassing prepandemic levels

Neighborhoods on Chicago’s West and Northwest sides had the biggest jump in robberies, but citywide numbers are lower than 10 years ago.

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Steven Sam phone video footage robbery liquor store Albany Park Chicago

Steven Sam holds up his phone showing video from the night this summer when his Albany Park liquor store was robbed at gunpoint.

Anna Savchenko / WBEZ

Steven Sam still has the security footage of his Albany Park liquor store being robbed by two masked men.

Sam replays the security footage from the Aug. 25 armed robbery on his phone. It shows his brother being held at gunpoint by the store counter while the men empty his wallet and the two registers, which held $8,000 in cash. One of the perpetrator’s green gloves stand out on the screen.

Then, Sam skips to another clip of security footage showing a similar scene: two masked men, one wearing the same green gloves from the first video, robbing a friend’s liquor store just a mile east of his own within the same August weekend.

“It’s the same people,” Sam said.

Sam, his brother and his friend are victims of a massive increase in robberies across Chicago. Citywide, the number of people who reported being robbed is up 43% compared to the same period last year, according to a WBEZ analysis of data from the city’s Violence Reduction Dashboard. The spike is part of Chicago’s uneven recovery since the height of the pandemic. Shootings, murders and carjackings are down, while robberies and thefts are soaring.

Robbery sprees are being reported on the West and Northwest sides of the city in larger numbers, University of Loyola Chicago criminal justice professor Arthur Lurigio said. The well-orchestrated robberies target small businesses such as liquor stores or body shops that tend to have lots of cash on hand, he said.

“There’s nothing new about West Side spikes in violent crime,” Lurigio said. “The difference now is that they’re not random sprees. These are sprees with destinations.

“I also see robberies moving out of typical high-crime neighborhoods of the city, perhaps because there are not as many fruitful targets for armed robbery in those areas, and moving into areas where armed robbery is going to be more lucrative.”

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The surge in reported robberies is most acute in the nearby Grand Central (25th) Police District, which includes parts of Belmont Cragin and Hermosa. Reports of robberies in the area have nearly tripled since last year.

In the Near West (12th) Police District, which covers the Near West Side and the West Loop, residents have reported 121% more robberies than they did through the same time period last year, city data shows. The Near West district has the most robberies so far this year, according to city data.

The Shakespeare (14th) Police District, spanning Logan Square, Bucktown and Wicker Park, has seen the number of robberies jump from 245 at this time last year to 438 through Sept. 9.

At least 19 robberies were reported in the Logan Square area within one August weekend, when a group of armed offenders prowled nearby neighborhoods in stolen vehicles and robbed multiple pedestrians in rapid succession, according to police.

Robberies are defined as taking something of value from a person through force or the threat of force. They include armed robberies using guns or other weapons, and so-called strong-arm robberies which do not involve a weapon but do involve violence or the threat of it. The robbery numbers do not include thefts or burglaries, which are considered property crimes.

According to city data, the number of people robbed this year is still not as high as it was between 2000 and 2013, but the number of robbery complaints is trending at a six-year high.

That these numbers are far surpassing prepandemic levels is an indicator to Lurigio of COVID-19’s long-lasting economic effects on Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods.

“If there’s an economic downturn, there’s going to be an increase in all kinds of crimes for profit, armed robbery being one of those,” Lurigio said.

A Chicago Police Department spokesperson said police personnel meet regularly to discuss trends in robberies and how to strategically deploy officers to help prevent them.

In the 30th Ward, which covers parts of Belmont Cragin, Portage Park and Irving Park, police department personnel also attend regular community meetings to encourage residents to report crimes to them.

Thirtieth Ward Ald. Ruth Cruz said her constituents often call her office instead of the police department to report crimes because they think cops won’t show up. She understands their frustration.

“Our police department is stretched very thin,” Cruz said.

But sharing information with the police is what may help them catch some of the perpetrators behind the sprees, Cruz said, even if officers don’t get to the scene in time to stop the robbery.

Cruz’s constituents say more police cameras would make them feel safer in their neighborhoods.

But the 12 cameras spread across Sam’s store did not deter the green-gloved man from emptying his cash register.

“We are armed,” Sam said, his gaze resting on the live security footage streaming into a flat-screen TV above the counter. “But I don’t want to be involved in killing someone who comes to rob the store. He’s just coming to take the money. He is not coming to take my life.

“But at the same time, he’s pointing the gun.”

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