By Grace Kuikman
It’s not every day that real-life crime solving goes as smoothly as a television police drama, but the hardworking officers of the 22nd District police recently shared a crime story where all the moving pieces fell into place for a television-worthy outcome.
It began on an October morning. An elderly gentleman was getting into his car in the parking after shopping at Walgreens on 119th and Western, when he was approached by a man who started a tussle and stole the gentleman’s wallet and cell phone. The subject fled north on Western in a cream-colored car, but did not make a clean getaway.
Two shoppers had witnessed the crime, and sprang into action, immediately calling 9-1-1. One witness chased the car to get the license plate number, both witnesses helped the victim back into the store where they all waited for police to arrive.
22nd District Police Officer Dawnn Albrecht responded to the 9-1-1 robbery call, meeting with the witnesses and victim at the store, to hear their accounts of what happened and start police procedures.
A police observation camera was recently installed at that corner, and Officer John Thill, who works in the 22nd District’s Strategic Decision Support Center (SDSC), was quickly able to check the video. Although the actual crime was not captured on camera, the cream-colored vehicle identified by the victim and witnesses was clearly visible. Officer Thill also accessed footage from other cameras and found the offender’s distinctive car on 115th Street. He was able to zoom in on the driver and get a good physical description.
An hour or so after the incident, Officer Albrecht, working on professional instinct, decided to drop back by the Walgreens to see whether the suspect had returned to the scene of the crime. She spotted the cream-colored car in the parking lot and sent a flash message to the 22nd District for back-up.
Commander Sean Joyce and District Intelligence Officer Michael Collins joined Officer Albrecht at the Walgreens, where found a man who met the description from crime witnesses. The man admitted he had been to the store earlier, drove a cream-colored car, and took the route that was caught on police cameras when he left the parking lot, but not that anything happened in the parking lot. The conversation was captured on one of the officer’s body cameras.
The officers also interviewed store staff and verified that the subject had been in the store earlier that day. Without enough evidence yet to detain him, the subject was cut loose.
Officer Albrecht completed an ISR (Investigatory Stop Report) to get all the crime information into the system. Officer Thill continued assessing and analyzing camera evidence.
“Our SDSC Officer John Thill coordinates our various ‘eyes in the skies’ technology that we have here in the 22nd District, an investment that continues to increase, especially in the 19th Ward end of [the District],” said Commander Joyce. For this robbery case, Officer Thill gathered details that confirmed that the offender identified by witnesses and the victim was the same man caught on camera fleeing the crime scene.
In just a few hours, the team from the 22nd District had collected a lot of solid evidence, and turned it over to Detective Bill Donnelly to pull it all together, following up with the witnesses and the victim to make a case.
Detective Donnelly put all the evidence together. Through his skillful investigation, he discovered the make and model of the vehicle, verifying that the damage was uniquely identifiable. In interviews with the manager at the Walgreens, he found out the suspect is a “regular” at the store, immediately recognized as the man who had been suspected attempting to steal some merchandise just twenty minutes before the elderly gentleman was robbed in the parking lot.
The victim identified the suspect in photo array and the two witnesses added important details to Detective Donnelly’s investigation, including that the suspect was wearing a red hoodie at the time of the crime. The suspect was not wearing the hoodie when he later returned to the store, but he was wearing it when he was arrested at his home, without incident, just eight days after the crime.
The Next Episode
The next hurdle in bringing this case to justice is the trial. The suspect was indicted so the process has begun.
“A lot of work goes into getting a felony approved in Cook County,” Detective Donnelly said. “It’s not over yet; he still has to be convicted in the courts.” Testimony from the witnesses and victims is very important, and the detective has a good feeling that the people involved in this case will show up in court.
Don’t Just Watch . . .
Officer Thill called the investigation “A perfect example of how a community helps.” A community that helps is an important part of successful police work, and our neighbors can be part of good outcomes for the 22nd District.
“The officers at the 22nd District do this every day,” Commander Joyce said, running down the many responsibilities of crime-solving that range across the district. Officers respond to 9-1-1 calls and gather information to share with the officers who follow up on all the clues. The personnel in the SDSC Room use technology to find incontrovertible evidence. Detectives put all the pieces together to make probable cause.
“Then our tac officers . . . go out and put the handcuffs on people and bring them to justice. I think we are blessed to have this degree of dedication,” the commander said.
“And that said,” he continued, “none of this happens without the help of the community, and we ask a lot of the community. Call 9-1-1. Notice things that are unusual, get descriptions of suspicious people and their vehicles.”
The people of Beverly/Morgan Park are truly the eyes and ears of the police. Our officers at the 22nd District may make crime solving look easy, but it’s not. Safety is a community-wide effort. Please be part of creating happy endings in our community.