In response to a growing concern that crime in Riverwest is escalating as of late, the Riverwest Currents spoke with Lieutenant Cliff Harrison, who is in command at District 5 during Captain Gordon’s brief absence.

Police statistics tell us that burglaries in Riverwest are down 50% from last year. The last few weeks have shown an increase which, although undesirable, is not unusual as we are entering into the holiday season. According to Lt. Harrison crime is cyclical and the coming season is a high cycle. A small piece of good news is that an arrest was recently made of a person responsible for five burglaries in the area.

Lt. Harrison was less aware of an uptick in the number of assaults as recounted in the stories of muggings and beatings discussed on the Riverwest Neighborhood Association facebook site. Unfortunately, this was mainly due to the fact that the crimes, apparently, went unreported.

Says Lt. Harrison, “One concern we’ve got is unreported crime. In the Riverwest area quite often people are hesitant to call us. They’re perfectly willing to talk to each other about things that have happened, but they don’t always pick up the phone and call the police.”

Why is reporting a crime to the police so important? Lt. Harrison answers, “Because we focus our deployments on where we have reported crimes…We’re only going to be as effective as our intelligence leads us (to be). If we know that we have a problem in a particular area, we can focus on that area. But if we don’t know, then we’re going on old data; where we’ve seen problems in the past. We need to know if we have a new emerging trend in a particular area. Otherwise we won’t know to put people there.”

As odd as it sounds, he says, “The whole area is benefited by the reporting of a crime in it.”

Certainly, it isn’t always possible to make that 911 call in the middle of a crime, but the sooner the better. “We operate on a priority dispatch basis,” explains the Lieutenant. “ A man with a gun is going to be a much higher priority than an auto theft.” A crime “in progress” takes precedence over something that has already happened.

“We need to know as much accurate information as possible. Being a good witness is very beneficial if there is a delay in us getting there. The more information we have to work with from the initial report: that’s going to help us solve the crime,” he says.

In response to questions about police strategy to offer greater protection to the neighborhood Lt. Harrison outlines changes to the force. During the holiday season there is an extra deployment of officers, many more than the usual, which is specifically tasked with keeping people safe on Riverwest’s streets. The extra officers will be on the streets every day, and making themselves very visible.

As a community and individually, our own best crime prevention comes from watching out for each other and ourselves. “Vigilant neighbors,” says Lt. Harrison, are a community’s best protection. “Neighbors should be like extended families,” keeping an eye on their surroundings. If you notice “‘I’ve never seen THAT person around here before,’ ‘I’ve never seen THAT car in the alley,’ that should be a flag to pay attention to what’s going on. If you see something that is suspicious, call. Someone peaking in windows or looking in cars is probably a precursor to something bad happening,” he explains. If it doesn’t rise to a level you would call in to the police, make a mental or written note of it.

And always, but especially during this season, take precautions to safeguard your possessions. Don’t leave your GPS device or other valuables visible in your car. Don’t leave the curtains open to advertise your wall-mounted flat-screen TV. When you make a large purchase, cut the box up and put it in your dumpster instead of leaving it in plain sight.

In regard to walking the streets there is no absolute guarantee of safety, but the likeliest deterrent is to look and be alert to what is going on around you. “People have got to be aware of their surroundings. If you see somebody, make eye contact with them. You want to give the impression that, not only are you aware of your surroundings, but you’re confident. You’re walking with a purpose. You’re going somewhere. You see them. They know you see them,” says Lt. Harrison.

After dark it is best not to walk alone. Try to walk in groups with at least some alert members. Don’t let your inebriated friend walk home alone. Our greatest asset is one another.

“Crime happens all over the place,” says Lt. Harrison. “Riverwest is not the worst of the city. It’s actually a pretty nice area. The things I’d really like to stress are the common sense things and to encourage people to report crimes when they happen.”