Woodstock’s Art Karagianis moved to his home on Mitchell Street 18 years ago.
“In the first 17 years, I didn’t call the police once,” Karagianis said. “In the past year, I’ve called probably 10 times.”
Karagianis lives next door to the scene of a shooting that took place last month, one of a handful of violent crimes to have rocked Woodstock this summer.
There was the murder of Cesar Rangel, shot dead in a parking lot near the Woodstock Square June 16. The gunfire in Karagianis’ neighborhood followed on June 24, leaving a Chicago man wounded. Armed robberies at a home on Throop Street June 28 and at a convenience store on McHenry Avenue July 12 were punctuated by a Glendale Heights man whose neck was slashed with a broken bottle on Lake Avenue July 7.
“For whatever reason, we’re experiencing an aberration in some recent crimes,” Woodstock Police Chief John Lieb said.
Statistically, this criminal activity isn’t noteworthy as compared to recent years. Over the past decade, Woodstock has averaged a murder once every two-and-a-half years; prior to the June slaying, the most recent murder took place in 2015. From 2007 to 2016, the Woodstock Police Department’s tally of “crimes against persons” — homicide, reckless homicide, criminal sexual abuse, robbery, battery and assault — has fluctuated between about 150 and 300 a year, and total crimes reported ranged from a high of 1,649 in 2008 to a low of 909 in 2013. In 2016, there were 1,105 total offenses reported and 246 crimes against persons; 2017 will finish near those levels if current trends hold.
But this summer’s high-profile crimes, coming one after the other, have disturbed some residents, including Karagianis, who said he’d worried about apparent drug dealing and disturbances near his home for months prior to the shooting in his neighborhood. He said the armed robbery on Throop Street hit close to home, too — his adult daughter lives near the scene of that crime.
“There were days when you could drop your kids off and they could hang out with other kids and you wouldn’t worry about it,” Karagianis said. “I wouldn’t do that now.”
Lieb is bothered, too, not because he thinks the town is dangerous — “Woodstock is an extremely safe city,” he said — but because of the nature of this summer’s violence, especially where firearms are concerned. Of the four murders in Woodstock since 2007, three of them were stabbings. Only the most recent was a shooting. The robbers were armed with guns, too.
Lieb also is troubled by what he called “an outside influence” — that is, people coming to Woodstock and committing crimes.
“What concerns me the most is the involvement of not only firearms, but also the involvement of individuals who are not particularly from Woodstock,” he said.
Victor Romero-Palos, the man who faces murder charges over Rangel’s death, was a Woodstock resident. He had moved to town sometime in the past few years, Lieb said. A Hanover Park man, Brian Odell, was arrested for allegedly committing the Throop Street armed robbery, while Jeffrey D. Kerley of Elgin was charged with the slashing on Lake Avenue. Police have not arrested anyone for the other incidents.
Investigators don’t believe any of this summer’s major crimes are connected, although Lieb said many appear to have involved drugs, money or both.
“The drug trade and the drug trafficking is a blight,” Mayor Brian Sager said. “It’s a cancer on all of society, and McHenry County and Woodstock are no different.”
Sager praised the police department and echoed Lieb in saying Woodstock is a safe place to live, although he said the recent string of crimes was alarming, calling the timing “a nightmare” for the town.
“There were higher-profile crimes in a short period of time, so certainly, people are going to be concerned and raise questions. I agree with them,” Sager said. “I’m concerned and I raise questions, as well.”
And although the city hasn’t experienced a significant spike in crime this year, Sager said he understands why residents might feel worried or unsafe, given the timing and the severity of the crimes.
“Any time there’s an incident — I don’t care if it’s once every five years, once every 10 years, once every 20 years — of the nature of these crimes, that jeopardize our sense of well-being in terms of personal safety and security, people will appropriately respond with those concerns,” Sager said.
Part of Karagianis’ response has been to push for a “crime-free housing” ordinance in Woodstock, which would require landlords to evict tenants involved in criminal activity. The City Council is considering enacting such an ordinance this year.
“I think it’s really important that we as citizens of the town don’t just sit and let things happen,” Karagianis said. “We have to be proactive.”
Lieb said his department will continue to “keep a high level of vigilance” as the summer winds down. He is hopeful the recent cluster of crimes will give way to more normal patterns.
“I’ve talked to several of my counterparts throughout the county, and they also recognize that this is not typical for Woodstock, or for McHenry County, for that matter,” Lieb said. “They referenced that every municipality seems to get its turn on a spate of bad things that happen, and then it gets quiet. Their advice is the same as mine would be to them, which is to weather through it and try to catch the bad guys as best you can.”