Dear Rahm -- or the saga of my attempt to file a City of Chicago Police Report

This is going into the mail in the morning ....

January 3, 2013

Mayor Rahm Emanuel
City of Chicago
121 N LaSalle Street
Chicago City Hall 4th Floor
Chicago, IL 60602

Dear Mayor Emanuel:

I am a new resident of the great City of Chicago.  I moved here last fall to begin studies at the Catholic Theological Union in Hyde Park. I have enjoyed the beautiful City parks and welcoming spirit of the City and have generally been pleased with my move.

However, today I had my first direct interaction with City government, and I was not impressed.  While I am now a Catholic Sister of St. Joseph of Peace, before I professed my vows I spent 11 years working in municipal administration for the City of Portland, Oregon.  I share this tidbit because I believe it illustrates that I both understand the reality of overworked employees and understand how the system works.  I believe my family and friends would say that I am the last person to offer an undeserved anti-government “rant.” Yet I also firmly believe that my experience today is troublesome.  Hence, I am sharing it with you and your administration.

This afternoon I was the victim of a pickpocket who stole my wallet and telephone while I was enjoying a cup of coffee and cookie at the Bonjour Bakery Café in Hyde Park.  After cancelling my credit cards (which had already been used by the thieves) and stopping my cellular phone account, I called the police non-emergency number to report the theft.

Thirty five minutes, 5 transfers and 2 lectures later, I was the proud recipient of a police report number.  However, it took great persistence, perseverance, patience and a thick skin to be able to file my report.  I did not feel respected or believed, nor did I feel that the government employees on the other end of the phone had any interest in assisting me.

When I told the first individual who answered the non-emergency number that I wanted to report that my wallet and telephone were stolen, I was put on hold.  A few minutes later, I found myself speaking with another person.  I told this person the same thing, and was transferred to yet another person.  This third person asked me if I knew who stole my wallet and phone.  I told this person that I did not personally know them, but that the staff at the bakery had checked the surveillance tape and while the video did not catch them in the act, it did show the two men who were standing behind me in the café and most likely stole the wallet and telephone.  He said I needed to speak with a detective and transferred me again.  The next person who answered the phone was very angry at me when I told my story about wanting to report a stolen wallet and phone.  “Why are you calling 911!?,” he asked.  I said that I had called 311, about 15 minutes earlier, and that after several transfers I had ended up with him.  We went around and around again about the video, and he decided that I did not need 911.  He lectured me again for calling 911.  I again indicated as politely as possible that I understood this was not an emergency which is why I had called the non-emergency number.  I then asked him asked him to transfer me to someone who would take my police report.  He transferred me back to 311 where I was put on hold for about 10 more minutes.

Finally I received a human being who seemed willing to take my police report.  However, she again asked me if I had seen the person steal the wallet.  I explained that the wallet and phone had been in my coat pocket, and that I had been sitting on my coat in the café and about 20 minutes later realized my wallet was gone.  I told her that I had spoken with the staff at the café and they checked the video surveillance which they said showed two men standing behind me who were acting “strangely.” When I said that I believed they stole my wallet and phone, she asked derisively if I saw them both put their hands in my pocket, or if the video showed the two men put their hands in my pocket.  When I indicated that as far as I knew the camera was aimed at eye level and not my hip, she said that all she could do was report the wallet as lost.

At this point I was frustrated, so I will admit that I got a little bit snippy and said in exacerbation, “Well then it is interesting that my lost debit card made it to Target within the next 45 minutes and tried to charge more than $600 all by itself.” I had already called the bank who had told me that several small charges had cleared but they had put on a fraud alert for this large charge.  This finally got the attention of the clerk, and I was able to file a police report.

This experience has led me to wonder whether the crime statistics for the City of Chicago are accurate.  If other law abiding citizens have experiences as challenging as mine, I suspect that more than a few give up before they are ever able to navigate the system and that the crime statistics are greatly underreported. I hope that you and your staff are working to improve this crime reporting system and providing customer service training to those who answer the non-emergency line.

Thank you for reading my letter and for all you and your staff do for Chicago residents.  I hope that my next interaction with the City of Chicago is more positive.


Sister Susan Rose Francois, CSJP

CC: Garry F. McCarthy, Superintendent of Police


Jason said...

I can't wait to hear if you get a response!

Garpu said...

Sadly, it doesn't surprise me, having lived in that area for 18 years.

Is the bank refunding the charges? :(

Anonymous said...

I hope you are able to recover your valuables and your serenity. In fact, it's the cafe that should have reported the incident as it happened on their property. I imagine that, as part of a local business group, they would have a designated contact at the police department and, more importantly, they are the ones in possession of the evidence. Around here (Boston), some restaurants with a lot of reported incidents have been required to suspend business for a week or two until they have submitted a plan for dealing with the problem.