Jennifer Cook’s frustration over having her downtown Elgin business twice burglarized in two years is understandable, but not indicative of how things are going in the city center as a whole, the executive director of the Downtown Neighborhood Association of Elgin says.
Cook’s Sweet Boutique on East Chicago Street was broken into last week by a man who smashed the front door, broke glass cases and displays, and pocketed $250. Two years earlier, a burglar broke into her gourmet ice cream truck and took several items, including the cash register.
“I feel terrible for what happened to her,” said Jennifer Fukala, who heads the downtown group known as DNA. “Our organization is doing what we can to support her.”
Despite Cook’s experiences, burglaries are rare downtown, she said. She couldn’t recall the last time time one occurred, she said.
“I don’t think it’s reflective of how things are going lately. It obviously needs to be taken seriously, and it will be,” said Fukala, who worries it “could overshadow all the work that’s been done here.”
While Cook said she’s seeing a swing back to more homelessness and panhandling downtown, DNA officials disagree that’s the case.
Board President Steven Kroiss spoke to the Elgin City Council last week, saying there’s been a steady growth over the last five years, with new businesses moving in, new business concepts being tried and new developments starting.
According to DNA, the downtown vacancy rate is 6%.
When he first moved to Elgin in 2013, downtown “looked like the shell of a once-thriving city,” Kroiss said. He understood why Elgin residents were disappointed and frustrated, he said.
That’s not the case anymore as more and more people come downtown for weddings, concerts, dining and shopping, he said. The Downtown Elgin Farmers Market had a record-breaking opening day in June, drawing more than 3,000 visitors.
“The downtown is once again becoming a destination,” Kroiss said.
That’s not to say some of what Cook had to say isn’t true. In 2021, Elgin police handled 1,567 service calls downtown and made 57 arrests, data shows.
In the first six months of 2022, there have been 1,878 calls and 73 arrests.
The top five reason for calls are premise checks, traffic stops, loitering, accident/property damage and community engagement, Sgt. Mike Martino said.
Last year, there were 317 premise checks, 117 traffic stops, 72 loitering complaints, 68 accident/property damage incidents and 57 community engagement calls, Martino said.
Each category has increased this year: 408 premise checks, 209 traffic stops, 113 loitering calls, 87 for accident/property damage and 84 community engagement calls, he said.
“I think obviously there are more people going out and about (this year as pandemic fears wane) so more people are calling” with complaints, Martino said. “People are back to their normal lives.”
He added that some calls for service are initiated by police officers on patrol.
“Officers are obviously being more proactive in the downtown area,” Martino said. While there’s no specific downtown detail, as there had been in 2020, police are doing more enforcement, he said.
The department’s Collaborative Crisis Services Unit partners police officers with social workers to work on some of the homelessness issues, such as doing follow-up visits with people involved in calls who could benefit from mental or behavioral health services, Martino said.
The department also has joined forces with the Kane County State’s Attorney’s office’s Pre-Arrest Diversion Program, a pilot effort to help people get access to mental or behavioral health services so they don’t need to go into the court system.
“We can’t affect every single behavior that’s done downtown,” he said. “We’re trying to talk to business owners (about) what troubles they’re having and what time of day they are having (issues).”
Gloria Casas is a freelance reporter for The Courier-News.