ROGERS PARK — Jeff Kelley had just arrived in Rogers Park from California to visit his daughter when he became the first victim of a prolific armed robbery spree.

As he was pulling luggage out of his daughter’s car just after 10 p.m. Nov. 22, Kelley noticed a man walking up to him with a gun.

“A man stuck a gun in my face and said, ‘I don’t want to hurt you. Give me your money,” Kelley said. “It was very scary.”

Kelley reflexively asked the robber if he could only give up some of his cash, as he was from out of town and this was all the funds he had. Surprisingly, Kelley said the robber started to negotiate with him, though he did continue to threaten violence to Kelley and his daughter.

Kelley was robbed by a man dubbed a “polite robber” thanks to a police community alert that mentioned his friendly demeanor. The robber was responsible for at least 21 separate robberies in November and December, many on the Far North Side.

“He was very polite,” he said. “He was very professional, which made me confident I could ask if I can give him some of my money. It was almost like a business transaction. … I was definitely nervous and shaking the whole night.”

Such crimes grew more common last year across the Far North Side, which saw carjackings and robberies climb even as shootings and homicides dipped.

Robberies increased by nearly 30 percent in police districts 20 and 24, which cover the Far North Side communities north of Lawrence Avenue to the city’s northern border and west to the Chicago River. Carjackings rose five-fold in Edgewater last year and nearly doubled in West Ridge, city data shows.

The local statistics mirror citywide trends in escalating crime during the pandemic. In an effort to halt the trend, local alderpeople are opening new offices, partnering with anti-violence groups and asking the city for more police and crime intervention resources.

“It’s first and foremost on a lot of people’s minds,” Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) said at a recent town hall meeting. “We’ve had a lot of robberies, whether they be of individuals or of stores. A lot of these seem to be crimes of desperation, quick cash grabs.

“In addition to working on kind of community safety programs … I think there is also a responsibility we’ve got on the economic development front,” Hadden said.

Carjackings A Concern

Shootings were down last year in two of the three police districts covering Far North Side lakefront neighborhoods, but other categories of crimes rose sharply.

The 20th District saw 121 robberies in 2021, up 26 percent from 2020, statistics show. District 24 saw 224 robberies last year, up 29 percent from the year prior. Theft increased by 26 percent year-over-year in the 20th District and by 29 percent in the 24th District.

Robberies in the district increased to 334 last year versus 307 in 2020, a nine percent jump. Criminal sexual assaults jumped to 100 in 2021 compared to 69 in 2020, while burglaries in the district fell 17 percent year-over-year, according to the district.

Carjackings also rose sharply in Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park and West Ridge.

The 24th District saw 47 carjackings last year compared to 21 in 2020 and 9 in 2019, crime stats show. The 20th District saw 24 carjackings in 2021 versus 12 in 2020 and 4 in 2019.

There were 53 carjackings in the 19th District last year compared to 39 in 2020 and 11 in 2019.

Of the community areas within those police districts, Lakeview had the most carjackings in 2021 with 30, a jump from 6 in 2019.

West Ridge saw 25 carjackings in 2021 versus 5 in 2019. Edgewater saw 20 carjackings in 2021 (compared to 2 in 2019), Uptown recorded 16 carjackings last year (5 in 2019) and Rogers Park saw 13 last year (4 in 2019) .

‘We Need To Explore Some Serious Interventions’

Jasmine Eisner, whose father was robbed in the alley behind her Rogers Park condo, said she and her husband have changed some of their habits in the wake of the crime.

They no longer take the trash out at night, Eisner said. Because of the carjackings, the CPS teacher makes sure to never be on her phone in her car and always looks around before getting out.

“For the first couple weeks after the robbery I was definitely on edge,” Eisner said. “We felt like it was a reminder of how tough times are right now and that we do live in a city and should be careful.”

Local officials are working to make sure their constituents feel safe in their neighborhoods.

Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) said his office on Monday will open a satellite office at 1040 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. with the aim of improving safety along the corridor. A new ward staffer will oversee issues of public safety, Osterman announced in an email to constituents.

Osterman said he talked with Police Supt. David Brown about the increase locally in crime and said the department will be increasing patrols in his ward, specifically along Bryn Mawr Avenue, Argyle Street and Red Line stations.

These measures come after a 60-year-old man was shot in Edgewater while coming to the aid of woman being robbed in early January. A juvenile has been arrested in this case, police said.

“These crimes are deeply traumatic to the victims, those close to them, and their neighbors, and it undercuts the level of safety we have worked hard together to achieve for our neighborhood,” Osterman said in an email to constituents. “Public safety remains my top priority and together, we will work to address these safety issues.”

Other alderpeople have sought increased police resources to help combat the uptick in some crimes. At a community meeting regarding public safety in early January, Alds. James Cappleman (46th) and Tom Tunney (44th) said more police are needed.

Tunney said there were 400 officers working in the 19th District at the start of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s term in 2019. The number of officers in the district is now 300, Tunney said.

“We need more resources and we need it now,” Cappleman said at the meeting. “We do not want our neighbors to be afraid to walk around in their own community.”

A trend among the recent crime wave is an increase in juvenile offenders, officials said. To address the issue, the city needs a major plan to help kids choose paths other than crime, Cappleman said.

“We need to explore some serious interventions early on for these juveniles to get them back on the right track,” he said. “We’re not helping them, we’re not helping their families, we’re not helping this community when we ignore the plight of what’s happening with these young offenders.”

Hadden, in her own town hall, said more work programs and anti-violence efforts are needed “so people have ways to support themselves without criminal activity.”

Anti-violence and youth outreach groups agree. City officials can do more to make these anti-violence efforts work, said Ralph Edwards, the North Side director of Ex-Cons For Community and Social Change, a violence intervention group.

The uptick in crime corresponds with the coronavirus pandemic, which saw a wave of mass unemployment and the closure of school buildings and other programs. Stopping the violence means reversing the economic hardship and lack of opportunity brought on by the pandemic, Edwards said.

“The people we’re working with, they have to provide for their families,” Edwards said. “We’ve been saying, the violence prevention teams, these programs, there needs to be a bigger, more impactful investment.”