Chicagoans Face the Common Reality of Theft

By Oralia Olascoaga and Ambar Alejandra Casas Rosales

The most common type of crime in the city of Chicago is theft. Below are the number of reported thefts from April 2020 to April 2021.

Thefts Reported from April 2020 to April 2021 (Graphic/Ambar Casas and Oralia Olascoaga)

Fatima Huaracha, a first-year psychology student at UIC, is one of the many Chicagoans who have been victims of a crime.

Huaracha told her story on how she was the victim of a theft back in October 2020 in her job at a Chicago fast-food restaurant.

“I was working last semester downtown and somebody from the street came into where we kept all of the crew’s belongings… and they had ransacked through everybody’s stuff,” she said.

In her case, most of the things in her wallet were taken.

“The only things they left in there was my student ID and my ventra card, but they stole two of my credit cards, my debit card and the $70 I had in cash,” she said.

Chances are most Chicagoans have either been involved or know someone who has been involved in some form of a crime. With around 107,109 crimes per year and a rate of 40 per 1,000 residents, Chicago finds its place in rankings like the most dangerous cities and the cities with most crime rates in the United States.

Crime is something extremely common that most people have experienced in their life. However, there is not much knowledge regarding the technicalities surrounding crimes like thefts.

William McCarty, a Criminology, Law, and Justice professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said that oftentimes thefts occur because people have underlying problems, like a substance abuse, that lead them to commit a theft crime.

“Oftentimes there’s underlying problems, or mental health issues, homelessnes, and so on,” McCarty said. “There’s typically a process by which, you know, people are sealing towards another means… like to fund a drug habit or as a byproduct of some other addiction or mental health problem or issue that leads them to be sort of consistently involved in that sort of behavior.”

When it comes to crimes being committed, people always try to figure out why the crime occurred and what could have been done to prevent it from occurring in the first place and in the near future.

McCarty gave an insight into the Chicago Crime data he had pulled up prior to the interview where he said that Chicago had 230,000 theft crimes from 2017 to 2020.

According to the Luisi Legal Group, located in Chicago, the most common type of crime committed in Chicago is theft. There have been “around 65,000 offenses of theft that were recorded in 2018” (Luisi Legal Group).

This can also be backed up by the one year prior to the present crime database provided by the Chicago Police, in which out of the 200,495 incidents reported 36,169 were thefts.

There are consequences for someone who commits a theft: a Class A misdemeanor, which is for items that are less than $500 in value, and a Class X felony, which is for items greater than $100,000 in value.

If a person were to get caught committing theft, then they would face the consequences depending on how much value the items they took were.

However, the crime database also revealed how there are a small number of theft perpetrators that actually face these consequences. Out of the 36,169 thefts reported only 1,812 ended up with an arrest.

Source: Chicago Data Portal | Map: Ambar Casas and Oralia Olascoaga

As thefts consist of property being taken away without force, many of the cases might not lead to arrest as the amount taken is not high enough, there is no track of who committed it or there is no way to further investigate. But, the lack of arrests might lead police to lose credibility as people are not seeing results.

For example, Fatima Huaracha’s theft experience had no conclusion. After filling the police report and never hearing back again about her case, she decided not to contact the police if she ever faces a theft situation again.

“I never heard anything back [from the police] so it’s not worth it for me,” she said.

The lack of arrest in this case does not represent problems with the police capabilities. Opposite to that, when it comes to thefts there is protocol that there should not be arrests for every single theft, specially if they do not represent a large amount of money.

“Kim Foxx (Cook County State’s Attorney) in her office has basically said ‘we’re going to try to divert a lot of these people that have been arrested for minor thefts’”, McCarty said. “I think they’re defining as under $1,000 worth of property in saying basically we think it makes it worse if we prosecute those people, and they have to go.”

Moreover, there are other institutions derived from the Chicago Police that help control crime in certain areas. For example, the University of Illinois at Chicago has its own campus police that focuses on the security and crime that happens within the university and nearby areas.

UIC Police Chief Kevin Booker said that most theft crimes are unintentional and involve unsecured items.

When it comes to the safety of students and staff at UIC, the UIC Police do everything they can to help those who have been victims of theft on campus.

“We help to educate the individuals and community about the issues of leaving items unattended and unsecure,” he said in an email interview. “All thefts are investigated.”

When an incident occurs on campus, it is reported and investigated. In addition, a UIC Alert, a service that is optional for students and staff where text messages are sent about any campus emergency, and email containing information about the crime on campus is sent out to all students and staff. UIC Alerts and emails lets everyone be aware of what is happening on campus in case they happen to be on campus when the incident occurred and whether or not they are allowed to be around a certain area.

The UIC Police can attend to any incidents that occur on campus.

“We are a full-service police department; we handle all state-owned property at UIC,” Booker stated.

However, the UIC Police Department may request the Chicago Police Department when their assistance is needed.

UIC Police have resources available that ensure that students and staff at UIC feel safe. These resources can be found on the UIC Police website. The website has information on how to report a crime as well as other resources for crime survivors and so on.

In order to prevent theft from occurring and being a victim of theft, follow the tips that Booker suggested.

“Do not leave items unattended or unsecured,” he said. “Do not walk with your head down and cell phone in your hand.”

Tips for Campus Safety (Graphic by: Ambar Casas and Oralia Olascoaga)

Click here to access the infographic.