Chasing Down Thieves in the Retail Capital of the South Suburbs
Patch spent a night riding with an Orland Park police officer for a firsthand view of a night on local patrol.
Officer Shawn Walsh walked into the Orland Park Police Department with a rushed stride, motioning me to come with him.
“There’s a deceptive practice happening at Macy’s right now,” he said while we walked to his squad car with the engine running.
During the last few months of 2011, I participated in the Orland Park Police Citizens Academy. Following the eight sessions over the course of two months, participants can go on a ride-along with an officer for a shift.
I was told the third shift, 5 p.m. until about 11 p.m., was the busiest.
Search for Deceptive Practices
On Nov. 30, 2011, Orland Square Mall was full. Walsh drove through the crowded parking lot near Macy’s, looking for a bronze-colored Cadillac, as details about that deceptive practice case came in from the dispatchers.
All throughout the night, dispatch and patrol officers would talk back and forth, giving quick reports and updates often through the "10 codes," such as 10-23 meaning an officer is on the scene. 10-26 says a subject has been detained, 10-27 is to check a driver's license and 10-31 is a crime in progress.
A deceptive practice can involve counterfeit money, or a credit card in someone else’s name, as well as other forms of identity theft.
“We’re seeing more identity theft,” Walsh said, while driving through the lot. “More use of fraudulent and stolen credit cards, because it’s just so easy for people to use them. Just swipe.”
Patch recently examined Orland Park crime statistics, focusing near the mall, and found that though most retail thefts reported in Orland Park happen near or within the mall, the number of reported thefts in that area dropped from 546 in 2009 to 436 in 2010.
While still in the mall's parking lot around 5:20 p.m., dispatch said another officer found the Cadillac and arrested two women. One was accused of having over $2,800 in fake $20 dollar bills. Police later said she tried using the money to buy over $800 worth of merchandise at Macy’s, but the money felt fake in the store clerk’s hands.
"From now through December, it's a madhouse," Walsh said, about the number of calls police get compared to other times of year.
Pulling out east on 151st, we saw another officer pull over a car near Windsor Drive. Walsh parked behind the squad car to see if the officer needed any help. After a verbal thumbs-up from the other officer, we then headed toward the main area of Walsh’s beat: 143rd Street to Harlem Avenue and north.
Patrol officers stop for checks at businesses within the officer’s assigned area during their shifts and talk with the owner or manager. Walsh stopped at the 7-Eleven within the shopping center on the northeast corner of 143rd Street and 82nd Avenue, around 5:35 p.m.
“We usually stop in once or twice during a shift,” Walsh said. “It helps build trust with the owners, and helps us build sources for finding out information.”
Without the familiarity of actually knowing the officers, people might not be as inclined to cooperate, or actually call for help when needed, Walsh said.
During the night, Walsh also parked at a couple locations in town to watch for anything illegal or suspicious, including an area where a home burglary happened, and another area where drivers often blow through a stop sign.
While driving away from the shopping center at 143rd Street and 82nd Avenue, Walsh said police are seeing vehicle burglary more lately.
Not to be confused with stealing cars, vehicle burglary is when someone steals the contents inside a car, usually because the car owner left an invitation of sorts.
“Kids have started over the last couple years calling it car-hopping,” Walsh said. “They go out at night and simply try door handles. The people who are unfortunate to leave their cars unlocked, well, the kids are going to go through it and take whatever’s not bolted down. I try to tell people as much as possible, lock your car, and keep things out of view.
“We have a good town, but you still need to watch for these things,” Walsh said. “You’d have to watch for it anywhere there’s as many people as here, especially now during the shopping season.”
Around 5:45 p.m., shortly after he explained car hopping, dispatch alerted that a substantial retail theft was in progress at Marshall’s. The people suspected might be part of a theft gang known to sometimes use weapons on security guards, dispatch said.
A program running on laptops within all of the patrol cars include a location marker for each officer on the shift. Several started heading to the Orland Park Place shopping center.
We drove back to LaGrange Road and turned south.