Southeast Urbana crime raises concerns

Southeast Urbana crime raises concerns

URBANA — Crime in southeast Urbana is "like a wave coming in," resident Pat Johnson says.

He moved to the area in the mid-1990s to raise his children, and just 15 years ago or so, he did not worry about break-ins or beatings.

"I never locked my doors. I never locked my car," Johnson said. "You didn't have to. There was no crime in southeast Urbana."

Ed Bruner has lived there for much longer: since 1962. Most of his years were spent in peace, he said. But now, he and his wife worry if they have to park out too far in the County Market lot on Philo Road.

"I had hoped to live my remaining years in Urbana in my home in peace and security, and I don't have that," Bruner said.

Crime data would not suggest that southeast Urbana — "beat 65," as the police call it — experiences significantly higher crime rates than any other city police beat. In fact, it consistently ranks among the middle of the pack in both calls for service and reports of crime.

City officials say it is a few hot spots — and one apartment manager in particular — causing problems for police and residents.

One specific area — just west of Philo Road and south of Florida Avenue — generates the majority of calls for police. Through April of this year, police had been called 1,351 times to addresses in "beat 65." More than half of those calls, 876 of them, went to the small area just west of Philo Road.

That number of calls for service in the Philo Road district is 43 percent higher than during the same period in 2010. The number of crimes reported — 182 between January and April — is 43 percent higher, too.

Kevin Farrell and Abby Heras live in the heart of that hot spot. Their Silver Street home was broken into about a month ago, and they are still cleaning up.

"They ransacked the house completely," Farrell said.

The burglars got away with thousands of dollars' worth of property, and they still have not been found.

Farrell and some of his neighbors went to the Urbana City Council last week to ask that something be done. The residents say they are scared, and they have become more vocal about it in recent weeks, especially as the city considers whether to let vacant positions in the police department go unfilled.

"There is regular crime going on down there," Farrell said.

Mayor Laurel Prussing said last week that she is now looking at filling two vacant positions. But to pay for it, the city will have to approve budget cuts to tourism or increased rates at some parking meters.

Even if they were hired today, it would take months to train those officers and get them on the street.

Police have been running special details in the beat 65 area, Police Chief Patrick Connolly said, and the department is trying to create an atmosphere where it seems that there is an "omnipresence" of officers.

But Prussing has said the police presence is not the long-term solution. The city cannot just keep throwing officers at the crime problem, she says.

"It's more than a police issue," Prussing said. "It's a management issue of the apartments down there."

The city is using a relatively new ordinance to get the apartment manager — BZ Management — to "shape up," Prussing said. The manager will be required to compose a "security plan" with city officials to address the consistent crime issues that originate from those properties.

The apartment manager will be forced to stick to that plan — fines are attached to violations to entice compliance — or Prussing has said she would take the same steps that have forced out managers with problem properties in the past.

The manager, Paul Zerrouki, said he should not be held responsible for what residents perceive to be a crime issue. He thinks the issues are no different than they were in the past, before he took over management of the complexes, and city officials should not focus their efforts on him.

City officials "should probably try to find a solution, not finger point at the guilty person because there is no guilty person here," Zerrouki said.

He said the business climate is contributing much to the perceived crime in southeast Urbana — "economy is the key" to solving some of the issues.

"The buildings are not the problem," Zerrouki said. "It's the people living inside."

He said he and police have taken steps to address what residents say are problems with his properties, but "I cannot be there every second of every hour of every day.

"I don't want to be held responsible because a boyfriend and girlfriend are fighting two or three times," Zerrouki said. "I am not their Dr. Phil."

He said the community, police and city officials need to work together to solve the problems in the neighborhood, and he cannot do it alone.

"I don't have a magic bullet to fix the problem," Zerrouki said.

Zerrouki estimated that as many as half of the police calls in the area came from his staff — they want to feel safe, too.

The management company missed its first appointment with the city, Prussing said, but it had a second appointment on Friday.

"I can't give you a definite" timeline, Prussing said. "They'll come up with a plan, and it will have a timeline for getting things done."

But Zerrouki said he thinks most people in the neighborhood do not feel scared.

"I believe some people, they just panic for nothing," Zerrouki said.

Meanwhile, residents wait for the police and city efforts to alleviate what they perceive to be a crime wave overcoming their neighborhoods.

Some are calling the area "Cabrini Green South," Bruner said.

"All the good work that the mayor and the city council have done to improve the Philo business district is in jeopardy," Bruner said. "I can't think of a more important issue for city government."

A person who answered a BZ Management phone and quoted in a Sunday story about crime in southeast Urbana apparently gave a false name. According to Paul Zerrouki, owner of BZ Management, no one by the name of “Bob Kissenger” works for his company. Further, “Bob Kissenger” is not listed on rental registration documents filed with the city of Urbana. Zerrouki did say, however, that statements attributed to “Bob Kissenger” were accurate. The News-Gazette regrets the error.

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Gadfly295 wrote on May 29, 2011 at 10:05 am

TOURISM? URBANA? Lol.

emilnes wrote on May 29, 2011 at 11:05 am

Prussing never has trouble finding money for hideous "public art" (all those giant, metal shapes sprinkled around town), but can't seem to find any money for one additional police officer? That's such a typical response for a liberal career politician: firefighters and police-people are always the first budget lines they threaten to eliminate whenever tax revenue begins to dry up. They never threaten to reduce the number of paper-pushers who sit in city offices surfing the web all day long, or the number of artworks at Meadowbrook Park, or the "interpretive center" at Meadowbrook Park (who's going to staff that boondoggle?)

When will the tax-payers wake up?

ajbuckle wrote on May 29, 2011 at 11:05 am

All of the new sculptures you see sprinkled around town are courtesy of the Public Art League, which is privately funded.:
http://www.publicartleague.org/

The real problem is that your tax dollars are being spent on housing vouchers to bring mass numbers of Chicago's poor down here so that they can close the public housing up there. Large influx of generational poverty into a formerly good neighborhood, and now you have lots of crime.

emilnes wrote on May 29, 2011 at 12:05 pm

So no tax money goes to lease, purchase, instal, or maintain these works of "art"? I'll have to defer to you on that, but it's not how I remember it. In any case, I stick by my claim that there's plenty of waste in city government that could be eliminated before striking out police positions.

mazoman wrote on May 29, 2011 at 11:05 am
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Urbana is reaping what it sows.....Urbana law prohibits a landlord from using criminal records as a means to reject an applicant - what do they expect will happen to the quality of the Tenant base in Urbana?

emilnes wrote on May 29, 2011 at 12:05 pm

It has been a while since I've seen such a clear specimen of liberal pathology. Prussing blames the crime problem on the apartment manager, rather than the persons who have actually committed the crimes: "It's more than a police issue", "It's a management issue of the apartments down there". (Notice how her class-and-caste elitism manages to slip through: those landlords "down there" need to "shape up"--I suppose she was interviewed after an exhausting yoga session, while eating brie and sipping Chablis.)

The apartment manager is a businessperson, so in the liberal mind he must be doing something wrong. On the other hand, he's probably so tied down with regulatory regimes that, if he actually tried to manage his tenants' behavior, the ACLU would hit him with a lawsuit faster than you can say "Beaujolais nouveau".

southfarmllama wrote on May 29, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Yes, because calling people names is what will solve this issue.

TimH wrote on May 30, 2011 at 5:05 pm

And, to add to your point of view, it's been a while since I've seen a long post which takes absolutely no points of reality into consideration.

Perhaps one should think about this landlord: Instead of taking care of these complexes and giving them much-needed updates inside and out, these slumlords are happy just renting to the first interested tenet. These landlords are not interested in criminal history, credit history or job status, as long as a monthly check, either from the tenet or the government, reaches their office.

And if you feel this isn't true, take a tour of the many apartment complexes around CU. Those complexes that care about their properties and their tenet well-being will see less crime and fewer poor implants. Those properties like Garden Village, and the one mentioned above who will take any tenet off of the street, will see crime rates higher in their complexes.

Of course, you are too busy attempting to slander Prussing (and I'm not a fan) to pay attention to the real issues. Danville did not have a "liberal" mayor when the influx of former housing project immigrants arrived. I'm sure this would be the case for many other cities in the same situation. However, you, much like anyone without a credible piece of evidence, would rather point fingers at someone with opposing views instead of looking at the situations that brought crime to the area.

And for the record: if you know what "Beaujolais Nouveau" is, you're probably part of the elitist problem.

charliecrothers wrote on May 29, 2011 at 12:05 pm

Denying a criminal records check is a "social-engineering" recipe for disaster!!! Human Rights for criminals is a flimsy reason why the law-abiding folks should have to live in fear within a mile of Philo Rd. and Colorado.
I grew up in SE Urbana and I hold the City of Urbana responsible for creating this travesty. They all but Section-8'd this formally wonderful part of town to death. A pox upon them. I would sue the city if I still lived there... The purpose of gov't is to provide safety, not sow the seeds of neighborhood destruction.

Dean wrote on May 29, 2011 at 5:05 pm

"They all but Section-8'd this formally wonderful part of town to death."

Yes they have, just as they have with Champaign. The Section-8 housing creeps further and further south as does the crime. Sooner or later it is all just going to explode.

southfarmllama wrote on May 29, 2011 at 1:05 pm

To hell with these art sculptures and "tourism" budget. I have lived in SE Urbana for about 2 years and until recently haven't seen this issue addressed. Just a few weeks ago, someone was beaten while walking to the store. While more police might be the short term solution for the long term, its pressure on the landlord to make sure he doesn't rent to criminals. I'm all for free business, but when you rent to anyone, you're going to get the people no one wants. The rest of SE Urbana is great, its just that little part that is brining down the whole area. If the city officials can't or won't handle it, then they should be replaced.

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on May 29, 2011 at 4:05 pm
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It's illegal to discriminate against criminals in Urbana. No joke. City Code, Chapter 12.

Brad Cortright wrote on May 29, 2011 at 3:05 pm

I am glad that something is finally being done about this issue. I lived in this area from 1984 - 2000 and never had any problems, but it clearly has gotten much worse in the last 5 years. I have relatives in the area and I worry about both their safety and their real estate investments.

My advice to residents is to call police and municipal authorities early and often, Stop putting up with minor crime and code violations. I hope the situation improves rapidly for everyone's safety and the reputation of my beloved hometown.

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on May 29, 2011 at 4:05 pm
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Hi Brad!!

Unfortunately, Urbana's regimen for code enforcement is close to non-existent. It puts the onus on the individual -- which then opens the individual for retaliation.

Lots of other municipalities have corrected this problem. There are plenty of examples to follow. But our mayor is kind of stuck in the 1970s.

IU1977 wrote on May 29, 2011 at 5:05 pm

When you move the thugs from Chicago when CHA closed their high rises, they managed not to move to Barrington or Northbrook, but rather to a community, that due to their rules of not asking about their past, even though its available through the State of Illinois website. Urbana landlords should be allowed to ask for references and backround checks. Otherwise, the problems associated with SE Urbana will continue. Ask Danville how the closure of those highrises did for their crime rate.

I did notice that this story was lacking in many details. Exactly what types of crimes were reported? A theft of mail is not the same as an aggravated battery, but the writer just throws numbers out there with not explanation behind them. Of course and editor didnt bother to catch that either.

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on May 29, 2011 at 5:05 pm
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Danville got a lot of former Robert Taylor Homes and Cabrini Green residents. I've heard Rantoul also. But unlike the Holocaust, no one's uncovered a big paper trail chronicling the movements of Resident X from Public Housing Unit A to Public Housing Unit B.

Section 8 money probably goes a lot farther in smaller towns, though. So it makes sense that the CHA would funnel its residents to the sticks.

If you don't know about the typical Section 8 scheme, it works like this: The federal government pays half your rent, and you pay the other half (in theory).

Landlords expect only one half, and raise rents accordingly. The effect on the market is raised rents for people who pay their own way.

A friend of mine from a major newspaper in Washington recently emailed me about it. Someone is doing a big study on the CHA migration.

farmerbrown wrote on May 29, 2011 at 7:05 pm

As a Vermilion County resident, I can attest to the issues that have come in with the huge influx of CHA residents moving to Danville and I am very interested in the big study on the CHA migration. Our town is not what it once was.

mikeyy wrote on May 30, 2011 at 12:05 am

I've never seen your name on the ballot for Urbana mayor, when you say CHA ? are you meaning HACC

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on May 30, 2011 at 2:05 am
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A. Too bad
B. Huh?

Sandy wrote on May 29, 2011 at 6:05 pm

I live very close to the couple quoted in the article whose home was trashed, and I see this as an isolated incident, not the start of a major crime wave. I wouldn't go to County Market (or many other places!) alone late at night, but the residential areas are not a hotbed of major crime. I would have liked to have seen the crime rate broken down by type of crime. There is a huge difference between burglary and someone keying a car. This article does no favors for anyone trying to sell their house in what is really a nice neighborhood with excellent schools. Details, please.

flat_lander wrote on May 29, 2011 at 11:05 pm

First of all, last weekend there was another burglary to a home right around the corner from the Silver St. home referred to in this article. The couple spoke about it at Monday's city council meeting - numerous small electronics and a large flat screen TV stolen. Not to mention that I observed an assault in broad daylight a few weeks ago in the "residential area." In talking with many of my neighbors, these stories are becoming more the rule than the exception.

The 2010 crime map from the city of Urbana would further beg to differ with your opinion on this being an isolated incident. The neighborhood discussed in this article is under the SW Quadrant link at the bottom of the link. See for yourself:

http://urbanaillinois.us/departments/police/crime-beat-maps

It does not disaggregate the numbers based on type of crime (something I'd also like to see), but the sheer size of some of those numbers are concerning enough. Granted, a majority of the big numbers are clustered around the areas with high concentrations of the apartments that keep getting brought up; however, this data also clearly shows that it definitely is an issue in the area. Ignoring that there is a problem is ultimately more detrimental to your property value than anything else you could do.

flat_lander wrote on May 29, 2011 at 11:05 pm

I forgot to mention that my neighbor across the street had his truck broken into and ransacked about a month ago.

mikeyy wrote on May 30, 2011 at 3:05 am

C. no answer to the solution, shell answer man ???

mikeyy wrote on May 30, 2011 at 3:05 am

What is CHA ??? ask your resource in "WASHINGTON" who regulates section 8's,, it's HACC, it's based on a percentage of income, not half of rent, in the "sticks" or educated people refer to as "rural" it's it's a 502

IU1977 wrote on May 30, 2011 at 8:05 am

CHA-

chicago housing authority. They use to have a police department several years ago. Some other helpful acronyms for you

CTA- Chicago Transit Authority ( band used to be called that)

CPD chicago police department

CFD chicago fire department

Need any more help?

mikeyy wrote on May 30, 2011 at 3:05 am

while you're on google trying to figure out what a section 502 is, look up a section 48, that is the biggest loop-hole in the system and the biggest problem in that area

Scovill_and_Philo wrote on May 31, 2011 at 4:05 am

Since there is some discussion here on renters on Section 8, here is my experience with Section 8 Housing. People on Section 8 have more money to spend on renting expensive homes than working families with decent jobs without public hand-outs. Having managed a few VERY nice rental houses, it is my repeated experience that the people on Section 8 housing vouchers are the ones who can afford the nicest houses and the higher rents. The more children they have (and there is never a husband that I've seen yet), means they get more money from the government to rent a larger 3-4 bedroom house (which they often don't take good care of). When I am looking for a tenant, I typically see 75% of the prospective tenants are single women with children on Section 8, and 25% are not on section 8 (usually couples with jobs and kids). Only the Section 8 prospective tenants comment that the $1085 - $1185 monthly rent is affordable or a "good deal" because our government gives them huge amounts of money for rent. Yet working families struggle to pay that kind of rent. Landlords wishing to accept Section 8 vouchers RAISE THEIR RENTS, because they know that the government guarantees the rent will be paid.

Something is very wrong with our system that gives so much money to people who have not earned it. Why should they be able to afford nicer homes than most of the working families with decent jobs? Section 8 should be MINIMAL assistance for SMALL apartments... not huge HOUSES. The American system should reward those who have struggled to work hard and succeeded by their hard work and education.

BTW, I wish the previous writer had explained what is Section 48, as it is not evident by a general Google search.