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UPDATED 02/02/12 4:24 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Police are warning people on the city’s Near West and Northwest sides about a robber on the loose who has been targeting women.
As CBS 2′s Susanna Song reports, so far, 12 attacks have been reported over the past couple of months in an area bounded by Ashland Avenue on the east, Central Park Avenue on the west, Diversey Avenue on the north and Division Street on the south. The locations of the robberies are in the Logan Square, Wicker Park and Bucktown neighborhoods.
The most recent attack happened on busy Milwaukee Avenue just a couple blocks from the bustling and iconic intersection with Damen and North avenues in the heart of Wicker Park.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports
Police say the suspect looks for victims late at night or early in the morning, although one of the attacks happened in broad daylight.
The robber walks up behind the victims and grabs away their purses, money or cell phones.
As CBS 2′s Mike Puccinelli reports, three of the robberies happened in Ald. Roberto Maldonado’s 26th Ward.
“These offenders, they do not discriminate. They’re just going after women that aren’t by themselves,” Maldonado said. The victims have been of several races and age groups.
Maldonado met with a police commander Thursday to talk about the investigation. He also did something he’s never done: he alerted his constituents about the attacks on his Facebook page.
“We are using that instead of using the old-fashioned way, which was passing out flyers,” he said.
Maldonado was not the only one using social media to warn women in the area of the possible danger.
Tracy Reuter alerted her 300-plus Facebook friends about the danger.
“I was really nervous about it,” because she thinks she lives in a safe neighborhood. “I found the article on, I think it was your website, on the CBS website, and then I just shared it; because it’s kind of scary having that happen so close to home.”
One Facebook friend who saw that posting was Kristen Perez. She said knowing what’s been happening will make her more vigilant as she heads out at night.
“Facebook is pretty easy to use if you have a smart phone. It helps me find out about stuff,” she said. “I don’t generally read the newspapers so that’s how I get some information.”
The robber is described as an African-American man between the ages of 18 and 39, standing 5 feet 8 to 6 feet 6 inches tall and weighing 150 to 180 pounds. He was wearing a gray or brown hooded sweat shirt or a black puffy coat, and might have been driving a white four-door Cadillac DeVille made in the 1990s.
Residents say they are concerned, but people can avoid being victims if they’re extra-careful.
“I think it’s important that we are responsible ourselves. We need to know that we are not holding the phones out; we just need to be careful of our surroundings,” said resident Jolly Raizada. “Sometimes we are forced to walk alone – I have to walk to work right now – so it’s OK to walk alone. Just make sure you’re not so engaged in your cell phones and the gadgets you hold that you’re not aware of your surroundings.”
Another resident agreed that basic awareness is the best precaution.
“It sucks. It’s just depressing to think about that these are our neighborhoods, but, I mean, it’s like this everywhere. It just happens, and you just try to be cognizant about where you’re walking around,” said area resident Becca Birckhead.
Birckhead said neighbors have been raising awareness about the robberies on their own.
“One of my friends posted a link on Facebook, and then, like, tagged all the girls that she knew that live in the neighborhood, just to be like, ‘Beware, this is what’s going on,’ which is helpful,” she said.
Others said the neighborhood is not as safe as it seems.
“There’s a false security here because it is so busy. There’s stuff going on here at 2 a.m., you know, the streets are crowded; it’s kind of like New York in that way,” said Wicker Park artist Kevin Lahvic. “So it’s easy to see how you would feel that, ‘I’m not really alone, there’s all these people here. But if you were walking the dog or doing other things in the neighborhood, you realize that you just turn a corner and all of a sudden, you’re by yourself.”
Police have specified the locations and times of the 12 robberies:
• the 3100 block of West Fullerton Avenue, Dec. 4, 2011, 5:20 a.m.
• the 1800 block of North California Avenue, Dec. 17, 2011, 6 a.m.
• the 1700 block of North Central Park Avenue, Dec. 21, 2011, 6:15 a.m.
• the 1900 block of North Western Avenue, Dec. 22, 2011, 11 p.m.
• the 2100 block of North California Avenue, Dec. 24, 2011, 7:30 a.m.
• the 2000 block of North Kimball Avenue, Dec. 31, 2011, 11:20 p.m.
• the 1500 block of North Hoyne Avenue, Jan. 3, 2012, 3 a.m.
• the 1700 block of West Wabansia Avenue, Jan. 4, 2012, 4:32 p.m.
• the 2600 block of West Wellington Avenue, Jan. 6, 2012, 8 p.m.
• the 2100 block of North Milwaukee Avenue, Jan. 8, 2012, noon
• the 1500 block of North Maplewood Avenue, Jan. 20, 2012, 8 p.m.
• the 1500 block of North Milwaukee Avenue, Jan. 21, 2012, 2 a.m.
Police are urging women to walk in groups – especially at night – and not to listen to headphones or use cell phones or other electronic devices that act as a distraction while walking.
Meanwhile, police have increased patrols in the areas where the robberies occurred.
Anyone with information is asked to call Grand Central Area police detectives, at (312) 746-8362.