Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Be Safe, Not Sorry, Garfield Ridge Neighborhood Watch Says at Meeting

By Joan Hadac
Editor and Publisher
Southwest Chicago Post

Garfield Ridge residents would be wise to be a little more
skeptical and a little less gullible, members of a local crime prevention group said this month.

“Compared to so many other places—city and suburban—Garfield Ridge has relatively little crime, so maybe it’s easy for us to forget that there are bad guys out there who want to separate us from our hard-earned money and our belongings,” said Garfield Ridge Neighborhood Watch President Al Cacciottolo at a GRNW meeting of about 40 men and women at Valley Forge Park.

In a recent month, Cacciottolo said he was told by a police source that some 114 vehicles parked in police Beat 811 (Garfield Ridge west of Central Avenue) were “opened up” by burglars in search of everything from high-end electronics to loose change to support drug habits.

He described them that way because the vehicles showed no sign of forced entry and were thought to be unlocked.

“That’s 114 people who left their cars unlocked,” Cacciottolo said, saying that police believe the vehicle burglars are a man and woman “just walking nonchalantly down the street, checking car doors. So please, lock your doors. It’s just that simple.”

He added that Chicago Lawn (8th) District Commander Ronald A. Pontecore has committed to adding extra resources to go after and stop the pair burglarizing vehicles in Beat 811.

“He’s really a great guy, and I think you’re going to like him a lot,” Cacciottolo said of Pontecore, noting that the new commander is expected to elaborate on his plans at the next GRNW meeting, set for 7:00 p.m. Monday, October 17 at St. Jane de Chantal Parish’s Ward Hall, 52nd and McVicker.

He also said there is evidence to suggest that an old phone scam targeting senior citizens is hitting Garfield Ridge.

“This just happened today: an elderly gentleman living near 54th and Narragansett received a call from a man claiming to be the police chief of a town where this elderly man’s grandson went to college,” Cacciottolo said. “The man claiming to be a police official told the elderly man that his grandson had been arrested and needs $5,000 for bail or else he’d have to stay in jail.

“So then this [fake police official] hands the phone to a young kid pretending to the grandson, and he starts crying on the phone and says, ‘Oh Grandpa, don’t tell Mom or Dad. I don’t want to get in trouble,’” Cacciottolo continued, adding that the elderly man believed the tale and went to a local bank to withdraw $5,000 cash.

Fortunately, he said, an alert bank official saw what was happening and alerted the elderly man’s daughter as a precaution. She, in turn, alerted police.

“In the end, no money was lost because the [fake police official] never showed up at the house,” Cacciottolo said. “He probably saw the real police car in front of the house, and that scared him away.”

He urged everyone in the room to spread the word to senior citizens on their blocks, regarding to confidence trick.

Also at the meeting, GRNW officials encouraged everyone to call their toll-free tip line, 1-855-811-TIPS, to report non-emergency information about crime in the neighborhood.

“Some people, including seniors, are uncomfortable calling police directly,” said GRNW board member Arlene White. 
This gives them an option to speak with us confidentially and safely—perhaps passing along information that could be important in preventing crime or solving a crime.”

The tip line played a role in the capture several years ago of a man who attempted to rob a local Walgreens at knifepoint.

Founded in 2011 by three people fed up with crime in the area, the GRNW has grown in size and strength and has been credited with helping reduce crime in Garfield Ridge, long one of Chicago’s safest and best neighborhoods.

Born with assistance from the Clearing Night Force, the GRNW has helped start neighborhood watches in city neighborhoods as far away as Hegewisch and as close as West Elsdon, as well as in suburban areas like Central Stickney, Summit and Oak Lawn.

GRNW members do not pursue criminals or get directly involved with crimes in progress, but they do serve as extra sets of eyes and ears for police, providing direction that has helped police solve crimes in some cases and prevent others. 

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