<![CDATA[NBC Chicago - NBC 5 Investigates]]>Copyright 2019 https://www.nbcchicago.com/investigations http://media.nbcnewyork.com/designimages/5-Chicago-Blue.png NBC Chicago https://www.nbcchicago.com en-usSat, 19 Jan 2019 12:20:22 -0600Sat, 19 Jan 2019 12:20:22 -0600NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Health Professionals Waiting Months for License Approval]]> Thu, 17 Jan 2019 11:53:26 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/10P+PKG+MEDICAL+LICENSE+DELAY+COFFEY+-+00003713_35269485.jpg

If you’ve visited a doctor in recent years you may have noticed more physician assistants diagnosing illnesses and prescribing medication. In fact, physician assistants are among the fastest-growing professions in the United States.

State-licensed physician assistants, also called PAs, can take medical histories, perform physical exams, counsel patients and assist in surgeries while working under a doctor’s supervision. In addition to primary care, physician assistants also work in medical and surgical specialities.

But recently-graduated physician assistants who want to work in Illinois must wait months before they can treat patients. The current processing time for Illinois Physician Assistant applications is 8 to 10 weeks, according to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR).

For comparison, licensing officials in Wisconsin said they can process a PA license application in as little as eight days.

Betsy Matthews is the administrator of American Center for Spine and Neurosurgery in Libertyville and said the longer processing times in Illinois impact patient care and her office’s ability to attract new hires.

“Without that license they can’t practice and even without the license they can’t obtain any privileges at the hospitals,” Matthews said.

New physician assistant Alexa Niermeyer told NBC 5 Investigates she had to wait about three and a half months before the state issued her PA license, controlled substance license and other required documents.

“A lot of PAs graduate with student loans and then obviously other expenses and to have to wait that long to start working and getting a paycheck can be ready challenging for people,” Niermeyer said.

A spokesperson for the IDFPR said several factors can increase individual processing times, including applications submitted with incomplete or insufficient information or personal history issues requiring further Department review.

“The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation is committed to processing all applications thoroughly and promptly to ensure all practitioners are qualified and safe to practice,” said IDFPR director of policy and community relations Eric Eizinger.

Matthews said physician assistants are often looking at positions in a variety of states and are willing to relocate.

“Illinois’ reputation for taking a long time to process applications has unfortunately spread,” Matthews said.

The Illinois Academy of Physician Assistants (IAPA) said the IDFPR is understaffed and “lacks sufficient funding to tackle the backlog of applications.”

“The IAPA will work during 2019 with the new Governor to improve the financial situation and help the department have the resources it needs,” said IAPA spokesperson Dan Shomon.

Shomon said the IAPA has worked successfully to resolve individual cases of licenses being delayed.

According to the IDFPR, the volume of initial applications received varies throughout the year and the Department optimizes staffing resources to meet the processing demands. 

<![CDATA[Officers Remain on Payroll Despite Being Pulled From Streets]]> Wed, 16 Jan 2019 19:28:57 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/WMAQ-71_ASI_HR_1319215750293500001.jpg

They don’t patrol the streets or face the dangers their fellow officers face. 

In fact, they are confined to their desks.

But over a dozen officers linked to the scandal of Sgt. Ronald Watts and his crew at the Ida B. Wells housing project are still on the payroll.  They can’t be the police, but the city says they can’t be fired either.

“These officers are sitting at a desk,” said defense attorney Joshua Tepfer, who has watched as dozens of clients have proven they were framed by Watts and his team.  “They can’t make arrests, they aren’t allowed to testify in this court, but the State’s Attorney knows that they are liars!”

The scandal has led to the exonerations of 50 defendants, and dozens of others are being reviewed by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office. All alleged they were shaken down by Watts, and framed when they refused to pay protection money.  While even fellow officers have suggested there was corruption in the entire tactical team, only Watts and one other officer ever faced actual charges.

Still, as the exonerations mounted, CPD officials made the decision to pull 15 officers from the street.  Almost immediately, nine of those officers were told they would not be called to testify in any criminal cases because of concerns about their credibility.

NBC5 Investigates ran the names of the officers through the City of Chicago’s payroll database.  Only 13 appear to still be employed by the city.  But their reported salaries during the period since they were taken off the street, come to a cumulative total of $1,386,322.

“The taxpayer dollars are astounding and we should all be ashamed,” Tepfer told NBC5.  “But the human toll that let this go on and it caused so many wrongful convictions for a decade?”

NBC5 asked CPD where the officers are now assigned, why they cannot be fired, and how long they intend to keep them on the payroll.  The department would not answer those questions---responding instead with a written statement.

“For the last 15 years multiple investigations including the FBI, the State's Attorney's office, the Office of Professional Standards and the Independent Police Review Authority have looked at this incident,” that statement said.  “CPD has cooperated fully during every single one of those external investigations and at no time did we receive any information to relieve officers of police powers other than those that were criminally charged.”

The statement added, “We have absolutely zero tolerance for misconduct and illegal activity within the CPD and our commitment to the highest levels of professional conduct and standards is unwavering.”

<![CDATA[More Suits Filed After Allegations of Police Corruption]]> Wed, 09 Jan 2019 19:17:22 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/chicago+police+generic1.png

Six new lawsuits were filed in federal court this week against the City of Chicago, alleging civil rights violations by officers under the command of disgraced police Sgt. Ronald Watts.

Watts and officers under his command are accused of framing and shaking down residents of the former Ida B. Wells public housing project. At least 50 individuals have seen their cases overturned, after making credible claims that they had been framed. And many more cases are in the pipeline.

“The City of Chicago knew there was wrongdoing going on here,” says attorney Joel Flaxman, who filed the six suits against the city, on behalf of a half dozen individuals who had their cases thrown out. “The plaintiffs intend to prove that the city, through its official action, failed to stop these officers.”

Only Watts and one of the officers under his command, Kallatt Mohammed, faced charges. But more than a dozen others have been removed from street duty, and most have been labeled un-credible for testimony in criminal cases by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office. In virtually every case, the allegations against Watts officers were strikingly similar.

“(They) extorted bribes, stole money, stole drugs, ran their own drug units, did protection for drug dealers,” Flaxman says. “And framed dozens and dozens of people for crimes they didn’t commit.”

The City already faces dozens of lawsuits stemming from the episode, which has the potential to be the largest scandal in departmental history. Potential awards in the cases, would add to what was recently estimated by Crain’s Chicago Business, to be nearly a billion dollars in corruption-related awards and settlements since 2010.

“You know, the highest awards we’ve seen are over a million dollars per year of incarceration---some of the recent jury trial have been even more than that,” Flaxman says. “No matter what happens, the lawyers representing the city and the lawyers representing the city’s officers are continuously getting paid.”

<![CDATA[Video From Train Shows Moments Before 2 Cops Fatally Struck]]> Tue, 08 Jan 2019 22:32:34 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/metra+train+vid+-+00000628_351558471.jpg

Raw video obtained Tuesday shows the moments before Chicago police officers Eduardo Marmolejo and Conrad Gary were fatally struck by a South Shore train last month, as they were responding to a call of shots fired on the train tracks near 103rd Street.

The video comes from a camera on a northbound Metra train moments before the incident. On the left, nothing is certain, but what appears to be two people walking with flashlights--believed to possibly be the two officers. What appear to be flashlights scan the railway before going dark--leaving the outline of two people approaching the tracks.

The lights go out of frame on the left--the train passes--and it's believed the moment of impact occurred at that very moment.

All of this lends credence to the official police version of the incident--that the officers observed the northbound Metra train, the one we are aboard with this view, but stayed on the southbound tracks for safety, and were never aware that the southbound train was approaching from behind.

A 24-year-old suspect, Edward Brown, admitted he had fired the gun and was taken into custody near 103rd Street. He is charged with reckless discharge of a firearm and unlawful use of a weapon.

The incident occurred near 103rd Street about 7 p.m. in the city’s Rosemoor neighborhood, Metra officials said at the time. Police said the officers were responding to a "shots fired" call when they were struck by a passing train. They were on foot. The NICTD Indiana South Shore Train SS9119 was halted after the incident. The South Shore rail line uses Metra tracks. Metra shut down power in both directions.

The officers were later identified as partners—both fathers—with a collective four years on the force, Chicago police Supt. Eddie Johnson said.

“They have faced tragedy, after tragedy, this year,” Johnson said.

Marmolejo was 36. Gary was 31.

The superintendent referred to other deaths in the Fifth District over the past year—including two suicides and another on-duty death.

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A visibly weary Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke the night the officers died of the difficulty to grasp more fallen Chicago police officers in a year where the department has had multiple tragedies befall it.

“There are no words that can express the grief and sense of loss—this knocks you back on your heels,” he said.

Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi called the incident a “devastating tragedy.”

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The Fraternal Order of Police tweeted "Prayers, please," shortly after the incident.

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Former Chicago police superintendent and Chicago mayoral candidate Garry McCarthy also tweeted after the officers were struck.

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"Just now hearing @Chicago_Police lost 2 officers tonight," he said. "Pray for the brave men and women of CPD, they need our support."

Just now hearing lost 2 officers tonight. Pray for the brave men and women of CPD, they need our support.

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<![CDATA[40 Years Later: Secrets of the John Wayne Gacy Case]]> Mon, 24 Dec 2018 10:19:17 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/gacy+arrest+main.jpg

Forty years ago this week, Chicagoland stepped out of the carefree hustle and bustle of the 1978 Christmas season and into a nightmare.

The city at large had failed to notice the disappearance of dozens of young men and boys. But the last of those victims, a teenager named Robert Piest, changed everything. Piest’s disappearance led Des Plaines police to a contractor named John Gacy. And Gacy’s home near O’Hare yielded a chamber of horrors---the burial site of 29 of his 33 victims. 

"Gacy was just pure evil,” says former Des Plaines officer Mike Albrecht.  "He was just an evil, evil man."

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Albrecht knew Gacy better than most. When Piest disappeared after what should have been a routine job interview with Gacy, Albrecht and his partner were assigned to tail the contractor full time. The man they got to know seemed to know everyone on the Northwest Side, and acted like he enjoyed the cat-and-mouse game of having two cops constantly in his rearview mirror. 

"He was quite the braggart," Albrecht recalls.  "He was quite impressed with himself."

Gacy was so casual with his relationship with the officers, that he would sometimes introduce them to friends as his "bodyguards." 

"He would come up to my car and tell me where we were going the next morning," Albrecht said.

DOCUMENT: John Wayne Gacy's Statement to Detectives, Part 1

DOCUMENT: John Wayne Gacy's Statement to Detectives, Part 2

***WARNING: The above documents contain content that is graphic in nature.*** After his arrest in December 1978, John Gacy gave a statement to detectives, describing how he killed Robert Piest.

But everything changed after two other Des Plaines officers were invited into Gacy’s home. One of them, Bob Schultz, was in the bathroom when the furnace switched on. And he made a horrifying discovery.

"That odor from the heat, from the crawl space," he said.  "Bob said right away, it smelled like a morgue!"

Eventually, late on the night of Dec. 20, Gacy’s night-time sojourns led police to the office of his attorney, Sam Amirante. With Albrecht and his partner Dave Hachmeister sitting outside, the killer poured out his entire story as Amirante listened in horror.

He couldn’t reveal his client’s confidential admissions, but a shaken Amirante emerged from the office and gave the two officers a piece of chilling advice. 

"Don’t let Gacy leave," Albrecht recalled.  "He says block his car in. If he tries to leave, shoot his tires out!"


Gacy would be arrested the next day, Dec. 21. It was Albrecht who took his initial statement.

"He went into detail on what he had done to Rob Piest," he said.  "And Rob Piest and four others were thrown into the Des Plaines River because his crawl space was too crowded."

Investigators would eventually find 29 bodies buried on the Gacy property, most in that crawl space beneath his home. And four who had been thrown from the I-55 bridge over the Des Plaines River. Day after day, live television coverage showed the removal of dozens of bodies from Gacy’s Norwood Park Township home.

It was during an ensuing interview and a discussion of the crawl space, that Gacy even offered help. 

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"He said give me a piece of paper and I’ll draw a diagram for you," Albrecht said. "It’s amazing how exact that diagram was!"

Prosecutor William Kunkle agreed that the killer appeared proud of what he had done.

"Absolutely, he was the best at what he did and this is what he did," Kunkle said. "He came to enjoy it so he did it again and again. If he was going to be a killer, he was going to be the best killer!"

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Gacy ran a successful remodeling business. He worked part-time as a party clown. A self-styled man-about-town who enjoyed forays into Cook County Democratic party politics, he even posed for a famous photo with then-First Lady Rosalyn Carter. 

And he chose his victims carefully. Police say Gacy would first promise them a "handcuff trick," convincing them to cuff themselves behind their backs. Then, he would proceed to a "rope trick," strangling them after they were cuffed and unable to resist.

The victims ranged in age from 14 to 21 years old. 

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Trial and execution 

A year after his arrest, Gacy’s trial became one of the most celebrated criminal proceedings in Chicago history. His jury was selected from Rockford because of pre-trial publicity in the Chicago area, although most agreed there were few anywhere in America who hadn’t heard the killer’s name.

During closing arguments, Kunkle bristled at defense pleas for mercy. During his own summation for the jury, the prosecutor tore down the photos of the known victims, and strode to a spot in the courtroom where the trap-door to Gacy’s crawl space sat before the jury.

"You want to show this man mercy?" Kunkle growled.  "You show him the same mercy he showed when he took these innocent lives off the face of the earth, and put them here!"

Kunkle then hurled the victims’ photos thru the crawl space opening. 

"They hit the front of the jury box and scattered on the floor," he recalled.  "It was the best pin-drop moment I’ve ever had."

Gacy was found guilty March 12, 1980, the jury out just one hour and 45 minutes. Sentenced to death, the killer spent the next 14 years on death row at Menard Correctional Center, engaging in multiple appeals before his eventual execution at Stateville Prison in the early morning hours, May 10, 1994. 

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Unidentified victims

In 2011, the Cook County Sheriff’s office embarked on an ambitious proposal to finally put names with what were then eight remaining unidentified victims. 

"There is no time limit when we stop caring," sheriff Tom Dart observes. "Then the other part is, how do you get around the fact that in the course of 40 years, tremendous advances have occurred in the way we analyze and try to solve crimes?"

That seemingly herculean task fell on sheriff’s detective Jason Moran, and in the ensuing seven years, Moran has managed to put names with two of the victims. 

"We were inundated with leads at the beginning," he recalls.  "We received hundreds of phone calls and emails."

And the work continues. On a recent afternoon, Moran showed NBC 5 through the evidence he preserves in hopes of making another I.D. Forty-year-old evidence envelopes, yellowing with age, yield jewelry which belonged to Gacy’s victims, a silver ring taken from the skeleton of body #28, a leather key fob from victim #5.

"I still have a leads in the queue," Moran says, noting that he’s currently running the DNA of a potential victim from Louisiana.  "It’s a lot of work, because each lead is a cold case in itself."

Ironically, Moran’s efforts to connect missing persons with Gacy unknowns have turned up living people who simply walked off the grid and disappeared. 

"There just aren’t enough police departments that have cold case units," he said. "And it’s hard for people to go to their local police department and say, hey, what happened to my missing brother 40 years ago?"

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But were there more?

During the ensuing years, there has been speculation Gacy might have had more victims. Kunkle says he doesn’t think so. The only possibility, he says, is one more body tossed from the Des Plaines River bridge. 

"He said that he had actually put five bodies in the Des Plaines River. Four were recovered," he said. "He said that the first one had worried him because he didn’t hear a splash and he was worried that it had hung up on the structure of the bridge, and then later thought that maybe it hit a barge." 

No such body was ever found. And Kunkle speculated Gacy might have confused the number in the crawl space and the river. 

"There’s no evidence of any kind I’m aware of, anywhere else, that suggests any additional victims," he said.  "And if there were, I don’t think there’s any question that with his personality, in terms of bragging rights and being in control----when he was facing the death penalty, it’s not unusual for these guys to say ‘well here’s where two more are buried’."

"He absolutely would have done that if he could have, but it didn’t happen!" 

Sheriff Tom Dart says he’s not so sure.

"I’m now absolutely convinced that he killed elsewhere," Dart says.  "I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that he did that."

He says that after learning of the killer’s extensive travels for remodeling business all over the Midwest. In one case, he says he discovered a past case where Gacy had attacked a man selling pot at a truck stop in Florida. 

"You think for two seconds, a guy who’s been surgically murdering, slaughtering people and then burying them, he wouldn’t feel more emboldened when he’s in a foreign state, foreign county, foreign city that no one knows who he is?" 

It’s an observation Moran echoes. 

"How, when he goes out of town to travel for work or pleasure, does he turn it off?" he asks. "How does he not kill then?" 

At the same time, Moran notes Gacy was careful. In Chicago he could control the killings and the disposal of the bodies, right down to a decision to bury them beneath the floor of his house. It seemingly wouldn’t be in character, to get reckless on the road.

But then again, he asks, "How could you put it past someone so evil?"

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<![CDATA[Cyber Criminals Targeting Your Airline Miles: Expert]]> Wed, 19 Dec 2018 22:58:55 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/AIRPORT+MOS+KIM+-+04525915_34912623.jpg

Frequent fliers, check your accounts. 

According to security analysts, cyber criminals have created big business by stealing airline miles.

“They have less security protections than those we see in our banks and our credit cards, and they’re monitored less closely by consumers,” said Lesley Carhart, Security Analyst at Dragos Inc. 

A search of the dark web found countless stolen miles being sold for a fraction of their value. Eight thousand to ten thousand Delta miles were selling for $52. Thousands of British Airways miles were being sold for $100. All exchanges are done in digital currency Bitcoin, and prices can fluctuate according to the Bitcoin market. 

“(Malicious hackers) can use those miles to exchange them for gift cards, for loyalty programs for other companies. We’ve seen thieves do things like book hotels or rent cars using those miles,” Carhart said. 

In other words, Carhart said airline miles translate to easy money. 

A spokeswoman for British Airways said the airline constantly monitors the system for abuse and takes immediate action. 

“We encourage customers to keep each of their online accounts safe by using unique passwords for each account and changing those passwords frequency,” a British Airways spokeswoman said. 

Delta Airlines had a similar response.

“Delta take the responsibility of protecting our customers’ information very seriously, and we strongly encourage customers to be vigilant in safeguarding and maintaining the privacy of their Delta account credentials,” an airline spokeswoman said. 

Carhart advises looking for loyalty programs that offer multi-factor authentication when consumers log in and those that send notifications if there are changes to an account.

Protecting frequent flier numbers as you would bank account numbers is also important. 

“That number is as relevant as the number on your checkbook or on your credit card,” Carhart said. “You wouldn’t throw your credit card in the trash or you wouldn’t hand it to somebody else so they could take a picture of it, but we see people throwing away their boarding passes with their frequent flier number on it.” 

The U.S. airline industry said it is taking steps to ensure digital security. 

A spokeswoman for the trade group Airlines for America said the association could not speak to individual airline website security but added “The U.S. airline industry takes data security seriously and continues to work collaboratively with cyber-security experts to identify potential vulnerabilities, taking necessary precautions to keep systems secure and investing in IT systems and protective measures to safeguard passenger information.”

<![CDATA[Warning Signs: Keeping an Eye on Who Your Kids Text]]> Wed, 19 Dec 2018 07:41:05 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/10p+PKG+COFFEY+App+Chat+-+00005823_34907348.jpg

You may already keep an eye on who your kids text and what they post to social media. But who’s chatting with your children while they are playing online gaming apps?

Theresa, a concerned mom from the south suburbs who asked us not to share her last name, said her nine-year-old daughter is a fan of the game Roblox. However, she recently checked her daughter’s phone and discovered an unfamiliar number with someone requesting inappropriate photos of her daughter.

Theresa learned the person requesting the photographs had originally communicated with her daughter via Roblox’s in-game chat feature.

Theresa said her daughter said “no” each time the user requested photos and that no photos were exchanged.

“I’m proud of her that because he tried so many tactics to reach her,” Theresa said.

The other user offered a cat, money and gifts to Theresa’s daughter in exchange for photos of her in her underwear.

“As a parent you feel sick to your stomach and you feel that you did something wrong, even though I have gone through everything you can go through as far as teaching my daughter right from wrong and what information is yours and what you don’t give out over the internet,” Theresa said.

Theresa notified her local police department. The case is currently under investigation.

Roblox told NBC 5 Investigates it took immediate action by banning and blocking the bad actor.

“We feel very confident that this bad actor will not have contact with people,” a Roblox spokesperson said.

It is not clear if the other user was a child or an adult.

Roblox said the other user somehow snuck around the game’s strict chat filters. According to the spokesperson, the game’s filters are continually being updated.

“Our 100% focus is keeping families safe,” the spokesperson said.

Retired Naperville Police detective Rich Wistocki talks to parents and kids across the country about online safety.

“What I tell the kids is that the common denominator that this person is a predator, that they will try to get you off the gaming platform or the social network to go to private chat. When they do that they are not who they say they are. Because if they have something to say, why not say it on the game?” Wistocki said.

Wistocki also said many kids are not telling the truth about their age when they register for online gaming and social media accounts. He said in many cases, kids click on the year “2000” when an app asks for “year of birth.”

“What do you think’s gonna come to them? Adult images, adult videos, adults trying to talk to them and meet with them,” Wistocki said.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, offenders often start grooming kids by “liking” or commenting their posts.

Still, parents can disable the chat features on their kids’ games. You can select “chat with no one” on Roblox, for example.

Roblox said parents can also set a pin code to prevent their kids from adjusting the settings.

The makers of Fortnite said its platforms all have built-in parental controls.

Theresa said she used her own date of birth when helping her daughter sign up for Roblox. She said she did not know about the game’s chat features at the time.

These days, Theresa said she is compelled to advocate for other children and to warn their families.

She said apps like Roblox must be held more accountable and do a better job of protecting younger users.

“The issue here as that bad guys are taking advantage of every opportunity to get in touch with children in real time, a feature that shouldn’t ever even be an option for anyone under 18 years of age,” Theresa said.

Roblox said its chat filtering can be more stringent for users 13 and under.

<![CDATA[Pitching Coach Thrown an Identity Theft Curve Ball]]> Tue, 11 Dec 2018 22:51:04 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/BASEBALL+PLAYER+ID+THEFT+COFFEY+v2+-+00022118_34805601.jpg

John Ely and Kelly Bradley of Chicago thought they had found ideal short-term housing earlier this year. Instead, the couple lost money and Ely has spent months trying to regain his identity from an imposter.

“This guy’s posing as me and stealing money from people all over the country right now,” said Ely, a pitching coach in the Chicago White Sox minor league system.

In January, Ely and Bradley used Craigslist to find an apartment in Phoenix for White Sox spring training. The couple soon received a rental agreement from the landlord, who asked Ely and Bradley to send $2,700 and photos of their personal identification.

The couple said their friends in Phoenix drove past the rental property and the rental agreement seemed legitimate.

“I felt like I needed to prove to this guy that we weren’t going to screw him over,” Bradley said.

But after sending their money and copies of their IDs, the couple said they never heard from the landlord again.

“Unfortunately, with everything else going on, kind of ignored some of the red flags,” Ely said.

Ely, a former pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, said the imposter is now using his baseball credentials to carry-out the fraudulent apartment rental scheme.

“I hear from probably ten people a month reaching out to me on one social media platform or another asking, ‘hey, is this real, when can I expect to keys in the mail?’” Ely said.

Ely said the people who contact him say the imposter makes the conversations very personal by talking about Kelly and his playing career.

“He’ll do whatever he can do in order to make it seem more realistic,” Ely said.

Peter Campbell said he recently accepted a new job in Denver and needed a place to live. He found a sublease on Craigslist, which he did not know at the time was listed by the imposter landlord.

“It had a very compelling story talking about how John had just moved to Chicago to coach for the Sox during the off season,” Campbell said.

Campbell said he discovered that the rental was a scam after he sent money.

“It’s really pathetic that people like this are wasting brain power on something so hurtful,” Campbell said. “That was the only money I had to get a place out here.”

Another prospective renter, Jenna Verrengia , said she recently moved to Austin and fell victim to the imposter’s rental scheme.

“Moral of the story: do not send or agree anything without seeing an apartment. Sounds so sensible now, but at the time, this guy was too believable,” Verrengia said.

The Federal Trade Commission said it has received 332,000 identity theft complaints this year.

If you are a victim, the FTC said you can file a complaint at www.identitytheft.gov and your local law enforcement. The FBI also takes complaints on the website www.ic3.gov.

“Another thing that consumers can do is if their information has been compromised or if they find out that they’re a victim of identity theft, they could put a fraud alert or even a credit freeze on their credit report,” said Todd Kossow of the FTC.

On its website, Craigslist said consumers should always deal face-to-face and refuse background checks until meeting a landlord in person.

Meanwhile, the pitching coach, Ely, wants to help other consumers avoid identity theft curveballs.

“It can be convincing so make sure you’re protecting yourself very well,” Ely said. “Just the awareness needs to get out there.”

<![CDATA[Teacher Vacancies Impacting Chicago-Area Students, Taxpayers]]> Fri, 07 Dec 2018 10:58:43 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/GENERICKIDSHANDS_34622852.jpg

The solution to keeping your school’s best and brightest teachers from fleeing the classroom: better working conditions, more administrative support and higher salaries. That’s according to education policy experts who are urging the nation’s school districts to invest in teachers now in order to reverse troubling turnover rates.

Since 2000, the picture has been fairly consistent: Each year about 8% of public K-12 teachers leave the system and another 8% change schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

“Teacher turnover is really bad for children,” said Linda Darling-Hammond of the Learning Policy Institute. “Schools with high turnover actually see reduced student achievement even for the kids whose teachers weren’t the ones who left because it becomes unstable.”

She added it also costs a school district about $20,000 to replace a teacher who leaves.

“It’s kind of pennywise and kind of foolish to allow that kind of churn rather than investing in the ways that would keep teachers in the classroom, particularly in the schools where kids need that continuous relationship,” Darling-Hammond said.

According to public records, Chicago Public Schools lost 1,062 teachers due to retirement or other reasons since 2016 and they have yet to be replaced. Census Bureau data also shows that from 2015 to 2016, about 2,400 teachers moved from Cook County (including Chicago) to somewhere else in Illinois.

“They may go to some other schools in Chicago, but most of them go to other districts outside of Chicago where the pay is often better, the working conditions are easier,” said Linda Darling-Hammond of the Learning Policy Institute.

A CPS spokesperson said between last school year and this school year, 86 percent of teachers returned to their school, 6 percent stayed in a teaching position within the district and 8 percent moved into non-teaching roles at CPS or left the district.

"CPS is led by educators who understand that teachers are the backbone of every school community,” the spokesperson said. “More than 90 percent of CPS teachers stayed in district from last year to this school year, and we will continue to prioritize teacher development and retention to support high quality education across the district.”

Elizabeth Smith worked for twenty years as a public policy analyst before changing her career to education. She landed her first teaching job in 2007 in a Chicago Public Schools classroom in the city’s Little Village neighborhood.

“I wanted to work in a place where I could use my language skills, so both Spanish and English,” Smith said. “I really felt like I could work in a community where there was perhaps more need.”

Smith said she had a decent overall experience at the CPS school, but she faced challenges such as dealing with missing classroom books. Smith lost her job due to CPS budget cuts after her second year as a teacher. She then taught in in Cicero before moving in 2010 to a classroom in Oak Park, where she teaches a Spanish immersion program to fifth graders.

“Oak Park at the time, fabulous reputation, and the program was so unique,” Smith said. “Finally, the money. Salary was higher here in Oak Park. I made the decision to come over here and never looked back.”

Chicago Public Schools said it is dedicated to increasing opportunities for teacher development and mentorship while continuing to provide teacher salaries that are higher than national and big-city averages.

While some districts may be having an easier time holding on to veteran teachers, Darling-Hammond said there is a shortage of experienced math, science, special education and bilingual teachers.

The Illinois Education Association calls the current teacher shortage a “crisis.”

“Studies show the key to attracting and retaining quality educators is through adequate wages and respect,” said IEA president Kathi Griffin. “We need to put our students first and we do that by supporting our teachers.”

But there are fewer and fewer new teachers in the pipeline.

In 2011-2012, according to NCES, there were 403,000 first-year public school teachers; in 2015-16, there were just half as many: 191,500. Additionally, the supply of veteran teachers who return to classrooms is apparently slowing, according to a September 2016 report by the Learning Policy Institute.

Still, the University of Illinois-Chicago is preparing the next generation of teachers who want to focus on improving urban schools and empowering children.

Junior education major Julio Torres said he is eager to make a difference teaching in a Chicago classroom.

“I just feel like a lot of our schools are lacking individuals like me and the rest of my colleagues that we really know what it’s like to be part of an urban environment,” Torres said.

<![CDATA[You, Too: The Public Cost of Sexual Harassment]]> Mon, 26 Nov 2018 22:54:40 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/SEXUAL+HARASSMENT+DOCUMENTS+-+02074004_34607112.jpg

It was late in the evening at a holiday party at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Chicago, in December of 2011. About 300 members of the Chicago Police Department’s Organized Crime Division were there, including Officer Keisha Howard.

“I’m dancing and I’m tired, so I go and take a seat,” Howard told NBC 5. “My supervisor sits next to me, and is like, ‘What are you doing?’”

Howard said she began telling him about an undercover mission she wanted to work on.

What Howard says happened next is spelled out in the complaint she would file, as a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit, several months later.

The supervisor “leaned over to talk to Plaintiff, and quickly, without any warning, put his hand underneath Plaintiff’s dress and inserted his finger into Plaintiff’s vagina,” the suit states.

“I felt – panicked,” Howard said. “It was just like, ‘act like nothing happened – act like nothing happened.’ I think it was a survival technique.”

She said she immediately stood up; found her date, and left the party.

“I felt small,” she said. “And angry. I felt violated. You know, I choose when somebody can touch me. And I didn’t choose that.”

The next day she filed an internal report with CPD and later, a federal lawsuit. In July of 2014 the city paid her a settlement of $85,000, while acknowledging no wrongdoing by the supervisor, the police department, or the city.

“I still feel violated,” Howard said. “The purpose of the lawsuit was never ‘Okay, so you touched me, so I’m gonna get this money.’” She said she just wanted to hold someone accountable. Instead, the city denied any wrongdoing and CPD determined her charges were unfounded. The police supervisor still has his job.

Howard’s story is much more common than many might think.

In a three-month investigation, NBC 5 Investigates, along with Telemundo Chicago and the Better Government Association, tracked down case after case of government employees in the Chicago area accused of sexual misconduct, harassment, abuse, assault, or even rape. We found hundreds of lawsuits, complaints, and internal investigations, filed over the past 10 years in scores of local police departments and city halls, public schools and colleges, park districts and townships, totaling more than 400 cases so far, at a public cost of more than $55 million – so far.

Those numbers will grow, because hundreds of governmental bodies never responded to NBC 5’s initial request for public records. Others refused to release dollar amounts of settlements, separation agreements, or the legal fees required to defend their accused employees. Still others insisted that their cases of alleged harassment did not involve taxpayer money because the settlement costs were partially defrayed through insurance. Still other cases are pending in court.

In nearly every case found by NBC 5 so far, no one admits they did anything wrong. In fact, in a high number of cases, it is the alleged victim – not the alleged harasser – who ends up having to leave their job.

“Taxpayers should be concerned, because it’s wrong. There has to be some kind of public outcry to hold governments accountable,” says Dana Kurtz, a Chicago attorney who has handled scores of public sexual harassment lawsuits, including a recent case against the Country Club Hills Fire Department, where a female firefighter alleged that men on the force routinely watched pornography at the fire house. The firefighter also claimed that she was denied a promotion when she reported the behavior. That case resulted in a judgment against the department for more than $11 million, and, in a statement after the verdict, the town’s assistant fire chief said that department employees were “devastated” by the behavior of the now-former firefighters towards their female colleague.

“There is still this very strong culture of retaliating against victims who complain,” Kurtz said. “And that’s a message that resonates through all employees, through all levels of government, who say, ‘Okay, well I can get away with it.’”

“Or what happens is they let the offenders resign, so there’s nothing in their personnel file, and they get to get jobs somewhere else. Or – they get promoted,” she added.

That is, in fact, the pattern with a significant number of the cases examined so far by NBC 5: The alleged harasser keeps his or her job while the complainant is compelled to leave, or – if the alleged harasser does step down – they may do so with a five- or even six-figure separation agreement.

Our partners at the BGA detail additional cases and findings in this joint investigation. And NBC 5, the BGA and Telemundo will report on other stories as we continue to add up the public price of alleged government sex harassment, throughout the Chicago area, as we continue this investigation over the next several months.

<![CDATA[Mental Health Apps On Rise, Little Accountability: Experts]]> Tue, 20 Nov 2018 23:26:51 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/MENTAL+APP+BROLL+-+00255206_34530699.jpg

Feeling overwhelmed this holiday season? Suffering from anxiety and stress? Wish you could carry a portable therapist? 

There’s an app for that. 

“Health apps are among the fastest growing areas,” said Dr. Niranjan Karnik, Associate Dean for Community Behavioral Health and Innovation at Rush University. 

From mindfulness and meditation to ones that deal more seriously with depression and suicide prevention, apps designed to treat mental health have exploded in popularity.

“The challenge is which ones really work and which ones don’t” said Dr. Karnik. 

Experts who’ve studied mental health apps said these digital therapists can provide some benefit but emphasized that they should never replace a real doctor. Among their chief concerns, many apps are not developed with doctor or patient input and can provide bad information. 

“There was an app for bipolar disorder, which instructed people if they were having a manic episode to take a shot of hard alcohol. This is terrible advice,” said Dr. Stephen Schueller, former Northwestern University professor and current assistant professor of psychological science at the University of California at Irvine. 

Mental health apps are rarely regulated, experts said. The Food and Drug Administration has only approved one mental health app, called Reset, which is designed to treat substance abuse. The rest is up to user discretion. 

“No one is going through that content, making sure that it’s safe and reasonable,” Dr. Schueller said. 

Dr. Schueller, in partnership with Northwestern, helped create the Psyberguide, a system that rates mental health apps based on credibility, user experience and transparency. 

“When someone downloads a health app from the app marketplace, they should have confidence that that app can actually do what it says it does,” Dr. Schueller said. 

Experts said when mental health apps are well-developed, they can be extremely beneficial by providing people in crisis with a daily routine, especially in areas where professional help might not be readily available. 

“The vast majority of people with mental health problems don’t get treatment whatsoever,” said David Mohr, Northwestern Professor of Preventive Medicine and Director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies. “There’s not enough providers. We’ll never have enough providers to treat everybody, and even if we did, they won’t always be where the patients are.” 

Mohr also stressed that technology should never replace psychotherapy and won’t work for everybody, but apps can be helpful tools in an ever-increasing digital world. 

“We can reach large numbers of people, and we can potentially provide treatments that are cost-effective,” Mohr said.

<![CDATA['Crass' Comments About Women Made by Shooter, Coworker Says]]> Tue, 20 Nov 2018 23:06:01 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/records_345321921.jpg

A picture is emerging of a disturbing and recurring theme in Juan Lopez's troubled life just a day after authorities say he went on a fatal rampage at Mercy Hospital and Medical Center.

Jarrett Bridgeman worked with Lopez in security at Illinois Masonic Hospital.

"He would make remarks, sometimes, about women," he said.

Bridgeman told Telemundo Chicago that those remarks against women stood out. They came at a time when the gunman's first marriage was falling apart.

In a 2014 petition for an order of protection--- his soon to be ex-wife complained that Lopez slept with a pistol under the pillow and left it accessible to their child.

There were incidents where he brandished the gun when he became angry with a neighbor, and again in the face of a realtor.

She said he also sent threats via text message that he would come to his ex-wife's job and "caused a scene."

Lopez's estranged wife cited "constant infidelity and abuse."

Bridgeman said he sometimes wondered what his colleague was thinking---when he heard the views expressed about women at work.

The comments were "crass, inappropriate, especially in a professional environment," he said.

That's what they thought at the Chicago Fire Academy too.

The academy threw Lopez out after just two months in 2014---in connection with his treatment of women there.

Internal department files say female recruits complained that he repeatedly and intentionally bumped into them.

"He was accused of bullying," spokesman Larry Merritt told NBC 5. "In the end, he didn't show up---was called to respond---and was fired."

Since last February, Lopez had worked at a Chicago Housing Authority call center---but reportedly had never given up his law enforcement dreams---still owning a number of weapons.

"Yes, he was concealed carry--and had a FOID card," Chicago police Supt. Eddie Johnson said. "I think he purchased four weapons in the last five years."

The Cook County medical examiner ended speculation about the cause of Lopez's death Tuesday. The official autopsy results show two wounds. One to the abdomen, and a single gunshot to the head, which investigators said appeared to have been self-inflicted.

<![CDATA[Veterans Fighting For Benefits After Exposure to Burn Pits ]]> Fri, 16 Nov 2018 22:45:21 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/BURN+PITS++-+00003125_34490494.jpg

Army National Guard Major Michael Ray started every morning with a run around his military bases while serving as a physician’s assistant in Afghanistan and Iraq. The jogs took Ray, a Sheboygan resident, near the smoke billowing from large pits used by the military to burn trash.

Ray said at the time he and most other service members didn’t think much about the burn pits, which included everything from plastic to scrap metal to ammunition, set ablaze with jet fuel.

Now retired, the 61-year-old Ray said he feels more like an 85-year-old. He said he developed a bad cough that lasted close to a year after returning from Iraq. Ray said he eventually paid for a lung biopsy in December 2017, which revealed he has an incurable lung disease called constrictive bronchiolitis.

“That’s the thing about the invisible wounds of war is that you can look normally and feel really horrible,” Ray said.

Ray submitted the lung biopsy information to the Department of Veterans Affairs. However, the VA denied his disability claim.

A spokesperson for the VA told NBC 5 Investigates that VA providers in Milwaukee did three examinations of Ray in March 2015, July 2016 and August 2017. The spokesperson said the 2015 test was reported as normal by a pulmonologist and the record does not show any respiratory complaints at the two additional exams.

Ray has since filed an appeal of his claim with the VA. He said he needs a lung transplant before he turns 65 years old.

“It’s difficult for us to hear the VA run their tests and do their studies and say we can’t find any connection between exposure to these toxic chemicals and these lung damages that’s happening,” Ray said.

According to its website, the VA said at this time, research does not show evidence of long-term health problems from exposure to burn pits.

“I think there are many unanswered questions right now. One is what is causing a problem? I think we still need to better define what the problem is,” said Dr. Drew Helmer of the VA New Jersey Health Care System.

Still, the VA said it is researching the effects of burn pits and that it does approve related claims on a case-by-case basis. The VA said as of August 31, 2018, it has received 9,621 claims from veterans for a burn-pit related disability. There have been 2,193 granted claims with at least one issue that is related to burn pit exposure.

“VA doctors treat all manner of Veterans health issues and the department continually looks at medical research and follows trends related to medical conditions affecting Veterans,” said VA spokesperson Rick Fox.

The United States Congress mandated the VA in 2014 to create a burn pit registry to help document exposure. So far, more than 157,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have reported their exposure to burn pits on the VA’s voluntary registry. A spokesperson for the VA said 980 Chicago-area veterans have already completed the Burn Pit Registry questionnaire.

The Department of Defense said, “when used, open-air burn pits are to be operated in a manner that prevents or minimizes risks to human health and safety of DoD personnel and, where possible, harm to the environment.”

President Trump in September signed a bill into law that would create a VA Center of Excellence to study burn pits and treat exposed veterans. However, it remains unclear where the center will be located or how it would be funded.

Advocates for former service members exposed to burn pits said they want more done now before more veterans get sick or die. They said the government’s recent Center of Excellence effort is admirable, but does not go far enough.

The independent group Burn Pits 360 runs its own burn pit registry and said it’s already heard from more than 6000 veterans who say they are sick from their exposure to burn pits. The group said it’s also heard from more than 120 families who say their loved ones died as a result of the burn pits.

Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Szema and his team at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research are working on a potential treatment for veterans and other people living with constrictive bronchiolitis.

“We have specialized techniques to look for special chemicals that get burned so we can detect burn particles in the lung and the metals,” Szema said.

Dr. Szema has applied for funding from the Department of Defense for further studies and hopes to get approval for the drug in the future from the FDA.

<![CDATA[Hybrid, Electric Car Owners Hit With High Registration Fees]]> Thu, 15 Nov 2018 18:29:56 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/HYBRID+HITCH++-+00001425_34475578.jpg

Joe Takacs opened his Indiana vehicle registration notice in October and said he was surprised to see a fee increase for his hybrid car.

The Porter County resident owns a Toyota Prius in a state where lawmakers approved supplemental fees of $50 for hybrid vehicle owners and $150 for electric vehicle owners.

“It makes me mad,” Takacs said. “I’m paying more money because I’m trying not only to save some money, but I’m trying to help the environment.”

Takacs says his biggest gripe with the new fee is that the roads he drives haven’t seen much improvement.

“We’re already getting taxes like four or five times over for road improvements,” he said. “I’m still hitting the same potholes every day I drive to work.”

The new registration fees for hybrid and electric vehicles in Indiana were included as part of an infrastructure bill last year.

The Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, which is charged with administering the fees, said the state has collected $15,939,771.17 in revenue from 62,250 electric and hybrid vehicle registrations between January, 2018 and the present.

Eco-minded Wisconsin drivers in Wisconsin are also paying supplemental registration fees: $75 for hybrid vehicles and $100 for electric vehicles.

And for Illinois drivers looking to go green behind the wheel - similar changes may be coming. Several house bills currently in legislation propose sharp fee increases for electric and hybrid vehicle registration. Illinois HB 0062, sponsored by state Rep. Thomas Morrison of the 54th district, aims to impose fee increases from $35 every two years, to a maximum of $216 per year for electric vehicles and $158 per year for hybrid vehicles.

Morrison told NBC 5 Investigates the idea is to charge electric and hybrid vehicle owners a higher registration fee to make up for lost gas tax revenue.

Gas taxes are traditionally used to pay for road maintenance and other transportation projects.

“The gas tax model is built on the assumption that the users in the system are going to pay into it,” said Joung Lee of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

But that model is no longer working, according to Lee. He said there is currently a $12 billion shortfall in the nation’s highway trust fund and states are being forced to explore alternative ways to raise money.

Lee said that some states are considering a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax that would charge drivers for the miles they drive, regardless of vehicle type. He also said some states are considering dipping into sales tax revenue as a means of collecting funding for roads.

Ted Lowe of Wheaton is a member of the Fox Valley Electric Auto Association, a group formed in 1975 around the time of the first oil embargo. Lowe owns an electric-powered pick-up truck and a hybrid car and said lawmakers “should be applauding” electric and hybrid drivers for being energy-efficient.

“I honestly think it’s going the wrong direction,” Lowe said in reference to the proposed fee increases. “Electric cars actually drive less miles and they’re lighter, so they shouldn’t pay more.”

Lowe said that electric cars reduce the burden on health care costs for conditions like asthma. He said higher registration fees may also discourage consumers from buying energy-efficient vehicles.

A 2018 survey from AAA found that 20 percent of American drivers are “likely to buy an electric car in the future.” That number is up from 15 percent in 2017.

<![CDATA[Minutemen Highway Helpers Share Dangers, Tips for Drivers]]> Wed, 14 Nov 2018 21:45:49 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/MINUTEMAN+TRUCK+BROLL++-+00404014_34452326.jpg We sat down with a group of Minutemen to ask them about the biggest dangers they face and how drivers can create a safer experience on the highways.]]> <![CDATA[Rescuing Stranded Drivers: Meet the IDOT Minutemen]]> Thu, 15 Nov 2018 07:50:10 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/MINUTEMAN+TRUCK+BROLL++-+00274924_34452314.jpg

You’ve seen their yellow trucks driving on Chicago area expressways for decades. And without them, chances are your next commute in to the city or suburbs would probably take a lot longer than usual.

The Illinois Department of Transportation Emergency Traffic Patrol, also known as the Minutemen, are a group of state employees who can arrive to the location of a stalled vehicle within minutes to help keep the lanes free and clear. Based out of the IDOT facility at 35th Street and Normal Avenue, the Minutemen operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and currently patrol 1,037 lane miles on seven major expressways. 

The Minutemen formed in the fall of 1960 and they typically help motorists when needed and can push or tow vehicles to a safer location, provide gasoline, and change flat tires. IDOT said it’s emergency traffic patrol drivers average about 80,000 driver assists every year. 

NBC 5 sat down with a group of Minutemen who said reactions to their free service often comes with disbelief. 

“They don’t know who I am and where I’m coming from,” said Minutemen driver Jerry Lockhart. “They believe, oh, AAA, send you so quickly. No. Not quite.” 

But in recent years the dangers these emergency workers face on a daily basis has increased as more and more drivers are distracted by their smartphones. 

“People aren’t paying attention,” said Minutemen supervisor Jay Seifried. 

They urge drivers to reduce their speed in inclement weather and to yield to the right when a Minutemen truck is behind them. Minutemen also request motorists give them a wide birth when they see the yellow trucks helping other drivers. 

The Minutemen said their trucks have been hit multiple times by other drivers and they often have close calls while working outside the confines of their trucks. 

“I looked up and there was a car just coming right at me,” said Minutemen driver Christian Martinez. “You heard the tires lock up and it just slid. I had to dive under the semi or I would have been hit.” 

Minutemen also said they are also supplied with bullet proof vests due to the increase in highway shootings. 

“You don’t know if they’re going to be shooting at you or if it’s still an active shooting,” Seifried said. 

They also witness the aftermath of a growing number of wrong way driving accidents. 

“People wouldn’t believe it, but it happens all the time,” said Minutemen supervisor Rudolph Dehoyos. 

By and large these emergency personnel said they receive a positive response from the people they help. 

But they are not allowed to accept gratuity from appreciative motorists.

Lockhart said handshake or a “thank you” will suffice.

<![CDATA[Debunked Myths, Guest Etiquette: Hotel Housekeepers Tell All]]> Tue, 13 Nov 2018 21:37:38 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/HOTEL+BROLL+KATIE+KIM+-+00153729_34436917.jpg Five housekeepers at downtown Chicago hotels sat down with NBC 5 Investigates and Telemundo Investiga to share their wildest stories and biggest pet peeves. ]]> <![CDATA[Secrets of the Trade: Hotel Housekeepers Tell All]]> Tue, 13 Nov 2018 23:15:46 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/IMG_8409+-+00000000_34433574.jpg

From once rampant sexual harassment to their new role of eyes and ears in hallways, hotel housekeepers are revealing secrets of the job and debunking myths. 

Five housekeepers at downtown Chicago hotels, who asked us to only use their first names and not reveal their workplace, sat down with NBC 5 Investigates and Telemundo Investiga. 

For the women, their favorite part of the job is the flexibility that allows them to be home with their children as they leave for school and when they return, as well as the ability to meet people from all over the world who stay in Chicago. 

The housekeepers discussed how their union, Unite Here Local 1, is fighting for their safety and better conditions. They also revealed the time of year in Chicago that most housekeepers dread. 

#1 Sexual harassment was once widespread 

The five women said they either personally experienced or know a colleague who endured sexual harassment on the job. 

There is a universal three-knock rule in hotels. After three knocks, the housekeeper assumes the room is empty and is safe to enter. 

“I enter the room, and there’s a guy standing there completely naked,” said LaTonia. “I felt embarrassed, ashamed and angry.” 

The women said they’ve also been solicited. 

“When I ask, ‘do you need service or do you want service?’ They ask, ‘what kind of service?’” said Faviola. “They make me angry because I don’t know what they think we are.” 

A 2016 survey of nearly 500 women working in hotels in Chicago, conducted by Unite Here Local 1, found 58 percent of hotel workers experienced sexual harassment by guests. It prompted the union to push Chicago aldermen to implement panic buttons in all hotels. The ordinance passed with a July 1 implementation date. 

The housekeepers said the panic buttons make them feel safer. 

“We wear it with pride,” said LaTonia. “It’s scary being on those floors alone and knocking on doors and you never know what’s on the other side of that door.” 

#2 The worst time of year for housekeepers in Chicago: Lollapalooza 

The popular summertime festival, along with New Year’s Eve and Taste of Chicago, prove to be a challenging time each year, the housekeepers said. 

“The guests leave behind a mess,” they explained. “A lot of damage, a lot of broken stuff, pictures off the wall, drugs…a lot of vomit. And during the festivals, if it’s raining…they come in with bare feet and there’s mud all over their feet, mud in the tub.” 

The women said they typically have a half hour to clean rooms for a multi-night stay guest and 45 minutes for a check out, which they said it not enough time. 

The Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association told NBC 5 that its member hotels have “policies in place to provide housekeepers with additional assistance and resources when rooms are excessively dirty.” 

#3 Go green or save green? 

The “green” program in hotels, which encourage guests to skip service or re-use towels in order to save the environment, creates problems for hotel workers, the housekeepers said. 

“The guests think they are doing the right thing, but essentially what happens is it lays the workers off,” said LaTonia. 

The housekeepers also explained that declining a turn-down means a bigger mess to clean up the next day. 

“It doesn’t save anything. We use more water. We use more chemicals,” Dias said. 

The Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association told NBC 5 that its hotel members are “committed to preserving the jobs of their team members by ensuring they receive the proper workloads.” 

“Job growth and protecting our precious environment are not mutually exclusive, and I’m proud of our hotels’ commitment to both,” said Michael Jacobson, President and CEO of the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association. 

#4 The most disgusting and outrageous things found in rooms 

Hotel housekeepers have truly seen in all. 

They said the most disgusting things they have found include vomit, unflushed toilets, toothpaste in the sink, used condoms in drawers. 

“You have to get on your knees and look for them under the bed,” Dias said. 

#5 The worst kind of guest 

Even worse than the creepy or disgusting guest is the rude guest, the housekeepers said. 

“No matter what you do, he’s not happy, she’s not happy,” Tina said. “You just have guests that complain because they want something free – a bottle of wine, a free night stay, breakfast. And they get it, but we’re the ones who face the consequences.” 

#6 Their jobs go beyond just cleaning 

In the aftermath of the 2017 Las Vegas massacre, where a gunman killed more than 50 concertgoers by shooting from a hotel window, housekeepers are now required to be extra vigiliant. 

“If the guests don’t request service in a couple of days, we have to report that, so (hotel management and security) can come up and investigate.” 

#7 Housekeeping is a taxing job 

The housekeepers said a majority of their colleagues are on daily medication to relieve aches and pains. 

“I had surgery on my rotator cuff due to repetitive work,” said Tina. “It’s a lot because you’re scrubbing down walls in the bathroom, scrubbing toilets, scrubbing sinks.”

The woman said they are on their feet for 8-hour shifts, pushing carts that can weigh upwards of 200 pounds. 

It’s one of the reasons why Unite Here Local 1 initiated a citywide hotel strike in September, calling for year-round healthcare. 

The women said during the slow tourism period in the winter months, housekeepers and other hotel workers were laid off without health insurance. The union negotiated with each downtown hotel by early October to end the strike. 

#8 Should you really drink from those glasses? 

Despite common hotel myths, the housekeepers said everything is wiped down and cleaned from one guest to another, from the TV remote, drinking glasses, drawers, mirrors and phones. 

Mattresses are replaced every 3 months, the women said. 

#9 Should you tip? 

Tips have declined, the housekeepers said. They’re not required by any means but very much appreciated. 

“If you stay three to four days, and you’re a mess every day you’re there, and I make it tidy for you, just out of appreciation, you should leave something,” said LaTonia. 

The housekeepers said handwritten ‘thank you’ notes are often worth more than a couple dollars. 

“A thank you note? Oh, it would just make me feel like I did something and they were satisfied,” Dias said. 

“I like when they leave a note, saying I did a good job and they like my service. That makes me feel good,” Faviola said. 

#10 Guest freebies and etiquette 

Yes, go ahead and leave used towels on the floor. That’s not considered rude, the housekeepers said. 

Also, there’s little the housekeepers won’t give you if you ask (except for themselves). 

Extra hangers, chocolates, bottled water, toiletries? It’s all free of charge. 

“I had this one guest who completely took my whole caddy, the whole thing! And then came back and asked for some more. I couldn’t do nothing but give them more,” Tina said. 

“You always have to make the guest happy.”

<![CDATA[Images Show Unsettling Scenes Witnessed on CTA Trains]]> Tue, 13 Nov 2018 10:11:17 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/cta+pic+2.jpg Photos show a series of unsettling scenes some say they have witnessed inside Chicago Transit Authority trains. The images come as motormen for the agency told their stories of the unpredictable challenges they face on the job.]]> <![CDATA[CTA Motormen Tell All, Share Transit Secrets]]> Tue, 13 Nov 2018 09:55:53 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Rogers_CTA+Trains+-+00040422_34397651.jpg To get an idea of what Chicago Transit Authority motormen deal with on a daily basis, NBC 5 Investigates assembled a group of veteran operators from Amalgamated Transit Union local 308. They spoke of the very unpredictable challenges they face. ]]> <![CDATA[Secrets of the Trade: CTA Motormen Tell Their Stories]]> Mon, 12 Nov 2018 22:45:15 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Rogers_CTA+IPhone+Nathan+-+00081723_34397766.jpg

They are the men and women who drive Chicago’s el and subway trains, covering thousands of miles in all conditions, every year.

But could you do what they do?

“We’re the first ones to deal with situations, because there’s no one else there,” says union chief Kenneth Franklin. “We see, we hear, anything and everything before police can get there, before the fire department can get there, we’re relied on for acting instantly because we have all these passengers in our hands."

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To get an idea of what motormen deal with on a daily basis, NBC 5 Investigates assembled a group of veteran operators from Amalgamated Transit Union local 308. They spoke of the trials of moving tons of steel over and under Chicago’s streets, while dealing with very unpredictable challenges from passengers. 

We’re not just talking about the occasional untalented musician or panhandler passing a hat. How about people in the darkened tunnels---between stations?

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“There was an actual guy that lived in the elevated part of the tunnel,” motorman Deborah Lane told us. “He had a TV, mattress, and everything connected to the CTA’s electrical system.”

Retired motorman Elwood Flowers, who drove trains for four decades, said he was taught early in his career that a dead giveaway can be a light ahead in the tunnel which should be steady-but isn’t.

“If any of those signals blink at you---that’s a body that you can’t see,” he said.

Sex among passengers, they say is commonplace, as is drug use. And all manner of criminal activity.

“I’m all on my own, there’s nothing I can do personally,” said motorman Thomas Moore, who had a man shot on his train earlier this year.

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“As soon as I stepped out of the motor cab, I saw the blood going all the way down the platform,” he said. “Apparently they were arguing over selling cigarettes, and one guy ended up shooting the other guy twice.”

Moore said he wished he was able to view cameras in the cars on his trains, but for safety reasons, he can only do so when the train comes to a complete stop.

“When you push the emergency buttons in one of those cars, I can hear audible sound, but I can’t see what’s going on.”

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Many said they had been physically assaulted. Motorman Deborah Lane recalled one man coming at her with a screwdriver.

“His thing was, I’m going to find you, I’m going to kill you,” she said. “It took a mental toll on me.”

By the way, did they say sex? The operators laughed. Marcene Anderson recalled one couple vividly.

“The woman was just sitting on top of the man,” she said. “And they had their coats around them and she was just riding him."

There is also the occasional—ahem—passenger who can’t wait to disembark for a real rest room.

“We see human waste, we see urine,” Lane said. “And we have to operate that train.”

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All said they had stopped a train to put out a fire. Most said they had seen passengers shooting heroin.

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“I’ve seen them with the needle in their hand, and once they came to the stop, they got off the train and left the needle in the crease (of the window),” Anderson said.

There are also tragic moments---suicides. For the motormen, those happen up close.

“A passenger committed suicide in front of my train, then I had to evacuate the train,” said Anthony Jones, a motorman of 15 years. “I had to put my own personal issues on the back burner, and go into CTA mode, and direct passengers to other trains.”

By the way, there is one other issue, a creepy-crawly one, which could send shivers up the spine of even the most hardened traveler.

“Bed bugs from homeless people,” Moore said. “I have to go back there to that car and get everybody off of it, isolate the car, cut all the doors out, so they can call someone to exterminate.”

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“This is like out of a horror story,” said Franklin, the union president. “We’ve had individuals so infested with bed bugs, that you can see the bugs activity on that person.”

Informed of the motormen’s complaints, a CTA spokesman told NBC5 Investigates that the presence of bedbugs is “very rare, in the context of the hundreds of thousands of rail trips CTA provides each year.”

If there is one issue which shows genuine friction between the motormen and CTA management, it’s the decision in the late nineties to eliminate conductors from the trains. The agency argued at the time, that in addition to cost savings, safety was actually increased, because the motormen became more engaged with full operation of the trains.

But the men and women who drive the trains note the elimination of the conductors led to an inescapable truth: on a train which can be longer than a football field, they are usually the only authority figure on board-one CTA employee for a thousand passengers.

“Somebody has got to step in there and say, hey, what about the safety of these people,” Flowers said. “The first guys to know that there’s no conductor on there is the wrongdoer."

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Moore, a 29-year veteran, said in this era when terrorism is a fear around the world, he especially thinks about it when he drives a train under the Chicago River.

“Every time I go through there, I just kind of hold my breath,” he said. “You never know.”

Oh, and by the way, on top of everything else---they do have to drive the trains.

“As the motorman, we’re the fireman, we’re the policeman, we’re the counselor,” Lane said. “We’re everything."

<![CDATA[Chicago-Area Paramedics Reviving Opioid Overdose Victims in Record Numbers]]> Sat, 10 Nov 2018 12:50:01 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/opioidinve.jpg

If you see an ambulance racing past you anywhere in the Chicago area, the chances of it responding to an opioid-related drug overdose have never been stronger.

NBC 5 Investigates has obtained eye-opening data from the Illinois Department of Public Health that shows how often local paramedics are administering naloxone to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. 

Although naloxone can sometimes be used for other types of treatment, IDPH experts said that its increased usage gives a clear indication of where most opioid overdoses are happening.

State data shows EMS crews in Chicago administered naloxone 9,602 times in 2017, continuing a year-over-year increase.  In fact, paramedics responding to calls in Chicago’s Homan Square administered the life-saving device 3,520 times in between 2012-2017.

You can view this interactive map to see how often first responders administer naloxone in your neighborhood.

The influx of overdoses is coming from prescription painkillers and illegal drugs, including heroin and synthetic fentanyl.  According state health officials, 2,109 people died from an opioid-related overdose in Illinois in 2017.

UIC professor James Swartz is studying the IDPH data in order to help local governments learn how often opioid-related overdoses occur and who is most likely to overdose.

“I don’t know that we have peaked just yet,” Swartz said.  “The data that I’m looking at through 2017 continues to show an increase the number of overdoses as well as the number of fatalities.”

Few communities across Greater Chicago have more opioid-related drug overdoses than the northern suburb of Waukegan.

The Waukegan Fire Department said it has administered naloxone 190 times this year between January and November.

“They’re definitely adding to our workload.  They’re time-consuming calls as well,” said Lt. Ryan Koncki of the Waukegan Fire Department.

Naloxone is also known as Narcan.  First responders said patients may revive within several seconds of receiving a dose, but they are advised to seek further medical attention before the naloxone effects wear off.

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Daniel James said paramedics revived him with naloxone several years ago and he has since used the life-saving device on another person.

But he said many people who come out of an overdose are not quick to seek the help they need.

“Saying to an addict ‘just stop’ is like saying to a chicken ‘just fly’,” said James.

However, James received treatment and is now sober.  He said he recently started working in the field of opioid use disorder to help other people.

“There’s somebody out there now that’s dope sick that’s walking the streets with nowhere to go,” James said.  “If I can somehow be a part of the instrument that gets them to where I am today, that’s a lot.”

Swartz said while the number of overdoses is still high, the rate of increase is diminishing.

“I’m hoping, expecting in the next year or two that we start to see it reversing,” Swartz said.  “A lot of people are doing a lot of hard work on multiple fronts to try to reverse this.”

<![CDATA[Find Out the Rate of Opioid-Related Overdoses in Your Town]]> Sat, 10 Nov 2018 11:47:41 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/map+coffey.png

For the first time ever, the Illinois Department of Public Health released a key set of data to NBC5 Investigates, which we’ve now analyzed and mapped, to show the towns and neighborhoods that have highest rates of opioid-related overdoses in the Chicago area.

According to health experts and first responders, the influx of overdoses is coming from prescription painkiller abuse, illegal heroin and fentanyl.

This map above shows the number of times that EMS workers have reported using Naloxone – a treatment which can quickly reverse the effects of an opioid-related overdose -- when they have responded to emergency calls, from 2012 to the present, for most every zip code in the Chicago area.

The darker the shade on the map, the higher the rate of Naloxone administrations.  Although Naloxone can sometimes be used for other types of treatment, IDPH experts say that its increased usage gives a clear indication of where most opioid-related overdoses are happening.

To create this map, NBC5 Investigates divided the number of times that EMS workers administered Naloxone in each zip code, by the total number of EMS runs for the same area, to compute a rate of Naloxone usage, which can also indicate that area’s rate of opioid-related overdoses.

For example, EMS workers in zip code 60525, in southwest-suburban LaGrange, reported that they administered Naloxone 143 times in the past 6-1/2 years, out of a total of more than 21,000 total EMS runs – showing that LaGrange’s rate of opioid overdoses – at 0.67% -- is slightly lower than average, for the Chicago area.

But further to the southwest, in the town of Braceville, more than 3.1% of all EMS runs included Naloxone treatments – a rate that is significantly higher than average for the area overall.

In Chicago, the map shows a breakdown by neighborhood.  For example, EMS workers reported a total of 521 Naloxone administrations just in the Uptown neighborhood alone – in the past 6-1/2 years, which translates to a rate of opioid overdoses of 2.27%, which is higher than the average for the greater Chicago area. 

A bit further south, in the neighborhood of Humboldt Park, EMS workers reported 2,541 Naloxone administrations, out of a total of more than 48,000 EMS runs, for the same period – a rate (5.28%) which is significantly higher than the Chicago-area average.  Even more sobering:  That’s an average of 390 Naloxone administrations each year, which translates more than one opioid-related overdose, every day, just in this one Chicago neighborhood.

This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[Inside a Real Rescue With the Chicago Fire Department]]> Wed, 07 Nov 2018 22:42:28 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/RESCUE+TEASE++-+00000902_34364572.jpg

Picture everything in your building blowing sky high, the ceiling caving in, and everything landing in a jumbled pile. Now, imagine digging through that pile, perhaps multiple stories of debris, to find a gravely injured colleague.

Welcome to the world of collapse rescue, which firefighters and paramedics may face at a moment’s notice.

“All of that stuff is still there, and we have to tunnel through it,” says Tim Walsh, Chicago Fire Department’s Chief of Special Operations. “Desks, filing cabinets, light fixtures, conduit, heating elements, heating ducts, it all comes down!”

Nowhere was that more evident than last August, when a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District treatment facility exploded on Chicago’s far southeast side. The roof collapsed, trapping ironworker Carl Malinowski under tons of twisted concrete and building debris.

“We were confronted with a gentleman who was fighting for his life, pinned uner probably 175 thousand pounds of concrete,” says Walsh. “The building pile was live---it could move at any minute. So I was pretty concerned. It was a pretty precarious rescue.”

To get an idea of what that rescue was like, NBC5 Investigates visited the sprawling Illinois Fire Service Institute, on the campus at the University of Illinois. It’s the very place the Chicago rescuers learned to do what they do.

“This is as realistic as you’re going to get,” said Mike McCastland, the program manager for IFSI’s structural collapse program, standing next to a giant pile of debris, designed to simulate the collapse of a three-story parking garage. That pile, made up of slabs of concrete and twisted rebar, is embedded with furniture, cars, and all manner of hazards which real-live rescuers might face.

To get an idea of that experience, NBC5 Investigates went inside the pile with instructor Jonathan Frye of the Oak Park Fire Department. What we found was a twisted labyrinth of tight spaces, jagged steel, slabs of concrete and almost total darkness. It was exactly what Chicago firefighters encountered as they worked their way toward Malinowski last August, eventually finding him pinned beneath a massive concrete beam.

“It was part of the rigid beam that held up the roof above him,” Walsh said. “This is what was trapping his legs.”

The Chicago rescuers used airbags to lift the beam off Malinowski, managing to free him even as doctors on an open line were preparing to give instructions on how to amputate the worker’s legs. But Walsh said even the process of lifting that beam was a precarious mission.

“Each time we lifted it two inches, it moved other parts of the building that were not stable,” he said.

Back in the IFSI collapse area, we encountered wrecked cars in tight spaces, with just enough space for a reporter to squeeze by sideways and crawl under chunks of concrete into the interior of the building. Real-life students are sent into the pile, with only the knowledge that there are 30 victims, represented by dummies, somewhere inside.

It’s their job to find them, and bring them out.

“It’s getting to them that takes time,” McCastland told NBC5. “Because it could be anything in the way, and you’re not positive the route that you’re going to take as you’re going.”

For his part, Malinowski had to endure weeks in the hospital for treatment of a variety of ailments, including over a dozen fractures, a recovery which is still a work in progress. During an interview last month at the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, where he was undergoing rehabilitation, he marveled at the rescue.

“There were a lot of people looking to take care of me and help me out,” he said. “I know a lot of people risked their lives to save me---an ironworker!”

IFSI is one of the premier facilities of its kind, training an estimated 62,000 emergency responders last year, from 46 states and seven countries. Some 500 Chicago firefighters and paramedics have gone through the program’s collapse training, to guarantee that a full squad is on duty around the clock, every day of the year.

In Malinowski’s case, it was training which almost certainly spelled the difference between life and death. For Chief Walsh and his team---a good day.

“That day went excellent,” he said.

<![CDATA[Would You Agree To These 'Terms?' Take Another Look]]> Mon, 05 Nov 2018 22:50:15 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Uncertain+Terms+-+Tape+1+-+00154605_34332638.jpg

You see them every time you download a piece of software or maybe sign up for a subscription online: those pesky “terms of service” agreements. 

To most consumers, they can be maddening. Many appear to contain random legal words dumped from a fiendish bucket of attorney jargon. Who could possibly understand what they are asked to certify by clicking “agree” at the bottom of an endlessly scrolling page?

"They want people to read them," said Kent College of Law professor Richard Warner. "But you’re not going to read them, right?" 

Right, because ... well, nobody does. 

After all, who has the know-how or the time?

Fun facts: The terms-of-service agreement for iTunes is longer than Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and NBC 5’s is as long as the Gospel according to Mark in the New Testament. (Really.)

Go ahead and read our "Terms and Conditions" for this report: Anything look fishy to you? Scroll down to see if you're right.

Warner said that as frustrating as the gibberish-filled documents are, they are exactly the kind of thing he would write if he were working for a client. 

"Your job is to write a business document that will serve the business purpose that that serves," he said.  "And the business purposes are to legitimate an extensive amount of data collection, and to allocate loss in case something goes wrong."

But do people know what they’re agreeing to do? 

To find out, NBC 5 Investigates went out to Michigan Avenue, with a slightly modified version of the agreement for our own website. (The one which stretches to Biblical proportions.)

Offering a chance to be on television, we asked passersby to take a look at it, then either agree or disagree.

Most simply scrolled to the bottom and certified their agreement, never bothering to really learn what they had signed, or the odd provisions we had added.

"As long as I’m going to be on TV, everything is going to work out just fine," Jasmine Roberts told us. She didn’t understand that by clicking the agreement, she had agreed to perform jumping jacks on camera. And to unlock her smart phone and let us rummage through the contents. 

And to give us all of the money on her person at that very moment. 

"I agreed to all that?" she asked.  "So what happens now, y’all going to sue me?"

We didn’t sue Jasmine, or others like Paula Werman of Lighthouse Point, Florida, who didn’t notice that she had agreed to provide us with copies of her tax returns.

"No, of course I wouldn’t do that," she exclaimed, anxious for our offer of a re-do, and the chance to click "do not agree." 

Indeed, during those few hours on the Magnificent Mile, we went 12 for 12. Every single person we encountered scrolled to the bottom and agreed to our terms, reading almost none of them, and shocked to learn what they had signed. 

"I definitely should’ve read this more," exclaimed Kristian Tiopo, after learning that he had agreed to provide his driver’s license and social security number. "If it was more user friendly, then I would’ve definitely." 

(By the way, we let everyone out of the deal.) 

In truth, the lawyers probably aren’t really concerned whether you read it or not. 

"Where it starts to look weird is if we think consumers are supposed to read that to be informed," professor Warner told NBC 5, noting that in the eyes of most courts, the agreements absolutely pass legal muster.  "If you have adequate opportunity to read and understand, you’re treated as if you did read and understand."

Many of the agreements are rather benign, mostly containing protections for the website or business. A great majority retain the rights over content you might post.

"If you’re writing one, one of your first questions is, what data do you want to collect, and what are you going to do with it," Warner said. 

But some are loaded up with unusual provisions---including a few which reserve the right to change their terms without notice. Still, the main defense a consumer is given is to click "disagree." But that prevents use of whatever they were seeking to begin with.

"Why would you read it?" Warner said.  "You have no power to change anything in it!"

Did you catch what we added to the "terms"? See if you're right!

<![CDATA[Some Customers Get Bigger Bill From Going Green]]> Fri, 02 Nov 2018 18:20:24 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/WMAQ-71_ASI_HR_131856022083010000.jpg

Some Illinois residents are seeing bigger energy bills when they decide to go green. NBC 5's Lisa Parker digs into what's going on. 

<![CDATA[Principal Returns After Suspension for Discrimination]]> Fri, 02 Nov 2018 18:06:13 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/WMAQ-71_ASI_HR_131856742077350000.jpg

The principal of a Chicago Public School was suspended for five days for discriminating against 34 students. Now, the prinicpal is back to working at the school, and parents are hoping the situation does not repeat itself. Here's Telemundo's Hilda Gutierrez. 

<![CDATA[Chicago-Area Police Training to Help Emotionally Disturbed]]> Wed, 31 Oct 2018 22:13:33 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/policeinvestigates.jpg

Cook County Sheriff’s Officer Miriam Bernal starts each patrol shift knowing she may have to call upon her Crisis Intervention Team training while responding to calls in the far south suburbs. Bernal and her fellow officers have responded to nearly 500 mental health incidents in the past two years, according to a sheriff’s spokesperson. 

The extensive 40-hour CIT course is considered by law enforcement experts to be the gold standard training on how to deal with individuals who are experiencing a mental health crisis. 

“With CIT, they’ve taught us to get there, do active listening with the person in crisis and just hear them out,” Bernal said. 

Millions of Americans suffer from mental illness. But sometimes their interactions with police officers can lead to injuries or death. 

Last March, DeCynthia Clements led Elgin police on a chase on Interstate 90. She was eventually confronted by police officers, but refused to exit her car.

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According to a lawsuit filed by her family, police knew Clements was experiencing a mental health crisis and was possibly suicidal. Police officers at the scene were planning to use non-lethal force to arrest Clements, who had a knife. But after her vehicle caught fire and she exited the vehicle and moved toward police, one of the officers shot and killed Clements.

Clements’ family told NBC 5 Investigates they feel it was a wrongful death and could have been handled differently. 

“It’s also hard to see how they could just take a life so easily,” said her father, Charles Clements. 

The Elgin Police Department has yet to comment on the lawsuit, but is asking for patience while the Cook County State’s Attorney investigates the incident. 

Since 2003, the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board has provided state-certified CIT training to police officers across the state. Participants receive intensive training on responding to people who have a mental illness or other behavioral disability. The one week block of instruction traditionally concludes with a role playing session in which police officers interact with actors portraying people experiencing an emotional breakdown. 

“The actors and actresses give feedback in terms of how the officers made them feel. The way they stood. Were they too close? Were they on top of that person? Did they make them feel small or did they make them feel empowered?” said CIT program evaluator Heather Robinson. 

CIT-certified officers also focus on de-escalating a mental health crisis situation and referring individuals to a mental health resource. 

While some Chicago area police departments aim to provide CIT training to all of their police officers, other departments prefer a smaller, specialized unit.

Orland Park Police Chief Timothy J. McCarthy said he’s found that having 30 CIT-trained officers and two sergeants allows his department to handle 99% of the community’s mental crisis calls. 

“This is the reality of law enforcement at this time and it’s our job to train for it and address it the best way we can,” McCarthy said.

Most Illinois police officers are required by law to complete 8 hours of mental health crisis training. However, experts say the week-long CIT course goes beyond basic academy curriculum and the 8 hour mental health awareness classes. Although, CIT training has been added to the curriculum at some academies. 

NBC 5 Investigates and Telemundo Chicago surveyed more than 300 Chicago-area law enforcement agencies to find out which have CIT trained officers. Of the agencies that responded, most said they have at least one CIT trained officers. We found 31 local departments with no one extensively trained to deal with their mentally ill residents.

Several police departments with no CIT trained staff members said their officers have completed multiple mental health awareness training courses that deal with behavioral threat assessments, addiction, mental first aid, developmental disabilities and treatment resources. Police chiefs also said the CIT courses fill up fast and it can be costly in time to have police officers attend a week-long training course.

To find out if your local police department has CIT-certified officers to better handle residents experiencing a mental health crisis, explore the maps below:

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This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[Map: Are Your Local Police Trained for Mental Health Crises?]]> Wed, 31 Oct 2018 15:48:14 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/mental+health+map.png

Chicago-area police officers are increasingly being called upon to interact with people who are experiencing a mental health crisis. But experts say those interactions with mentally ill and developmentally disabled individuals can lead to injuries or death, if a police officer is insufficiently trained. 

NBC 5 Investigates and Telemundo Chicago Investiga spent three months researching the issue, interviewing experts, and surveying more than 300 law enforcement agencies to learn how officers train to handle these situations. 

It’s important to note that most Illinois police officers now receive training in areas of mental health awareness, including behavioral threat assessments, addiction, mental first aid, developmental disabilities and treatment resources. And since 2003, the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board (ILETSB) has provided state-certified Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training to law enforcement officers throughout the state. The one-week (40 hours) CIT block of courses provides what is universally considered to be the most intensive training on dealing with individuals who have a mental illness or behavioral disability. 

But CIT training sessions fill up fast and can be costly in time, according to multiple police chiefs.

To find out if your local police department has CIT-certified officers to better handle residents experiencing a mental health crisis, explore the maps below:

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This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[Which Area Code Gets the Most Robocalls?]]> Tue, 30 Oct 2018 21:57:26 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/LMX___VO+11P+CELL+PHONE+SCAM_WNBC_100000006780237+-+00002207_34253157.jpg

In Antioch, Illinois, Linda Hensgen’s quiet life of retirement keeps getting interrupted.

Several times a day, her cell and home phone will ring. But when Hensgen answers, it’s usually an automated call on the other end.

“We get more robocalls during the day than we do real phone calls,” she said. “Most people would say ‘don’t answer the phone.’ But we don’t do that here.” 

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Hensgen said she answers because many callers are dialing from familiar numbers with a local area code. 

The experts call that “neighborhood spoofing.” Scammers have learned to disguise numbers to look like ones from your area, which might make you more likely to answer.

And the robocalls are relentless. 

Data collected by YouMail, a tech company that focuses on telecommunications and markets a robocall blocking app, shows the number of automated calls placed nationwide increased 50 percent from February to July. 

A mind-numbing 4.4 billion robocalls were placed to Americans in September. About 40 percent of those were scams, YouMail found. 

So how does your area code stack up when it comes to robocalls?

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Those in the south suburbs with area code 708 had a higher number of robocalls last month than their 847, 224 and 630 counterparts in the north, northwest and western suburbs. 

Northwest Indiana residents with a 219 area code received almost 11 robocalls per phone.

Surprisingly, those with a 312 number received the fewest robocalls in the state, according to the data.

And by far the worst in the Chicagoland area belonged to area code 773, with an average of more than 13 robocalls per person, and a total of more than 40 million robocalls in September, according to YouMail.

However, that pales in comparison to the most robocalled area in the nation. That distinction goes to area code 404 in Atlanta, Georgia, where residents suffered an average 69 robocalls per person and more than 84 million robocalls total in September.

“There’s been an explosion in the scam calls,” said Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail. “It got very easy for people to make them. There’s a whole bunch of scammers calling number after number after number, hoping someone will answer to pitch them on their scam.” 

If you feel like you are getting substantially more robocalls than the data might suggest, you could be right. Many phone numbers receive far more robocalls than the average.

Robocalls have consequences that extend far beyond simple annoyances. Gary Pess is a hand surgeon who said that robocalls are affecting his practice, and even his patients’ safety.

“My phone is my link to the hospitals, to the emergency rooms,” he said. 

Pess said that he has been “plagued endlessly” by robocalls to the point where he lets all unknown calls go to voicemail. 

“I try to call back as quickly as possible,” he said. “But it’s a waste of time because you still have to listen to the voicemail.” 

Pess said that the barrage of robocalls causes delays in patient care, which can ultimately result in serious consequences for patients with life-threatening problems. 

So what can consumers do?

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The Federal Communications Commission recommends joining the national “Do Not Call” registry. That, however, will only block calls from legitimate telemarketers. 

“The Do Not Call list did what it was designed to do,” Quilici said. “The problem is scammers could care less. And they’re going to call regardless.” 

Experts recommend installing a robocall blocking app, which tells the scammers that your number is a dead line. 

The biggest piece of advice is to not pick up or return calls to an unknown number.

“When a robocaller calls you, and you answer, they think, ‘oh good, this is a great number,’” Quilici said.

This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[Threatening Text Sent to Mother Whose Daughter Was Murdered]]> Mon, 29 Oct 2018 21:58:11 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/BOOKER+STAFFORD+-+00002320_342397291.jpg

Latonya Moore says her 26-year-old daughter Shantieya Smith left home with Charlie Booker May 25 but never returned. Her body was later discovered June 7 in a Lawndale garage.

“I actually believe he killed my daughter,” Moore said, adding that she when her daughter didn’t come home she begged Booker in a text to let her know if her daughter was OK. It was when she told Booker she was going to the police, that Booker sent her several threatening texts.

“Enjoy yo time and days becuz they will be cut short. Your days r on a countdown so enjoy ur time and days.” Moore says 24-year-old Booker taunted her sending more texts including “make sure you save all these message so somebody can give it to police.”

Sadaria Davis was also last seen with Charlie Booker on April 27. The 15-year-olds’ body was later discovered in an abandoned apartment May 11. Her family says she too was last seen with Booker.

Booker has not been charged in either murder but Chicago police say he is a person of interest in the Sadaria and Shantieya cases. Police also say they have questioned Booker several times and are now working with his attorney to question him again.

But in July, Booker was charged with stabbing a woman in Garfield Park. He fled to Memphis where he is charged with raping and shooting another woman. Both victims survived and Booker was caught. He has entered a not guilty plea in the Chicago stabbing case but has not entered a plea in the Memphis case.

Reverend Robin Hood has marched with victims' families. He says he warned Chicago police about Booker’s ties to the murder victims, but Booker, a repeat offender, continued to walk the streets.

“There is some type of code with the Chicago police, if you say something like serial killer, it spreads fear and it should,” Rev. Hood said. “People should be afraid when two women were seen with the same man and both of them are dead.”

Court records show Booker was out on bond for a parole violation when the two killings, stabbing, rape and shooting occurred. He’s been convicted of everything from drugs to theft and domestic battery.

Booker’s next court date is in November.

<![CDATA[Voting Machines in Ill, Ind. Need Upgrading: Report]]> Wed, 24 Oct 2018 18:31:36 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/votingcyber.JPG

On Election Day, a stunning majority of Americans will be voting on machines that are so old, they are no longer manufactured, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. 

Illinois and Indiana are among the 43 states with outdated equipment, the report said. 

“We are relying on equipment that is pre-Bush v. Gore, that is pre-iPhone,” said Noah Praetz, Director of Elections of suburban Cook County. “It is damaging to confidence when you touch a screen and it lights up and marks somewhere else.” 

Cook County commissioners recently approved funding for new voting machines, which Praetz estimated should be up and running by early next year. Praetz also said the upgraded equipment will allow the county to conduct modern audits, which is a crucial piece to election security. 

NBC 5 Investigates sent an anonymous survey to Illinois’ 108 local elections authorities to gauge cyber-security preparedness ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. Of the half that responded, nearly two-thirds said they need to upgrade their voting machines but don’t have the money to do so. 

The federal government recently earmarked $380 million in grants for state election security. Illinois’ piece of the pie, with a small state match, is about $14 million to be used to shore up election security and other upgrades. Indiana was eligible for $7.6 million. 

It’s not enough money for needed upgrades, experts said. One estimates the federal government would need to invest close to $5 billion to properly secure elections. 

“It is literally impossible to defend yourselves 100 percent of the time from a determined nation state,” said Jake Braun, Executive Director of the Cyber Policy Initiative at the University of Chicago. 

While dated, voting machines in Illinois and Indiana are not connected to the internet, which makes vote manipulation very difficult, experts said. 

However, Indiana is among thirteen states that use paperless voting machines, which do not provide a record for reliable post-election audits, in some or all polling places. All votes in Illinois are backed up by paper ballots. 

“States that don’t have paper ballots are flying completely blind right now,” Braun said. “They have no idea if someone’s hacked their machines.”

<![CDATA[Boyfriend Arrested in Memphis After Chicago Mom Disappears]]> Fri, 19 Oct 2018 21:40:42 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/5P+PKG+DAISY+HAYES+MISSING+-+00002316_32196927.jpg

Teresa Smith says she believes her mother’s boyfriend, Jimmy Jackson, murdered her inside a Chicago Housing Authority apartment building in May, stuffed her body into a suitcase, wheeled it outside and dumped it. She says security video sent to her anonymously caught him coming off the elevator.

Asked what she saw in the video, she told NBC 5 it was “her boyfriend, Jimmy Jackson, leaving with a suitcase that he’s struggling with."

Her mother, 65-year-old Daisy Hayes hasn’t been seen since.

Chicago police say 72 year old Jackson was arrested in Memphis Friday in connection to Hayes' murder. NBC 5 Investigates found a warrant recently for his arrest issued on one count of murder.

“I can see her whole leg, her whole leg print," Smith said of the bag seen in the surveillance video.

How could a body fit in a suitcase that size? Smith says her mother is tiny, about 5 feet 2 inches and only 85 pounds.

This isn't the first time he's Jackson has been arrested.

NBC 5 Investigates found that in 1985, Jackson was charged with two counts of murder but not convicted. Prosecutors dropped the case after a witness failed to show up in court on several occasions.

In 2012 Jackson was charged with battery but again the charges were dropped.

Smith says she wants justice and says she wants answers from Jackson

"What did you do to my mother and why,” she asked.

<![CDATA[Your Lyft Driver--Are They Insured?]]> Wed, 17 Oct 2018 21:40:08 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/LYFT+GENERAL.jpg

Lyft driver Julio Beltran had a bad enough day Sept. 9, when he was carjacked at gunpoint at a South Side service station.

“One guy just said, you work for Lyft?” Beltran recalled. “I say yeah---they showed me the gun---they said open the door!”

Beltran had switched off his Lyft app before driving into the gas station. Technically that made him just another driver. But when he contacted his insurance company about the theft of his car, they denied his claim, saying he had never informed them of his rideshare activities.

Then they canceled him.

Beltran learned what many rideshare drivers have learned---the hard way. Failure to cover that insurance base, can be a costly mistake.

“Uber and Lyft put these facts on their website,” says attorney Bryant Greening, of LegalRideshare.com. “They don’t do a good job of publicizing it.”

Actually, Uber and Lyft both provide varying levels of insurance, depending on whether a driver merely has his app switched on, he’s enroute to picking up a passenger, or has one in the vehicle. But most personal insurance companies, the ones drivers might have had before becoming rideshare drivers, won’t provide coverage without additional fees. Some don’t cover at all. And they frown on finding out, after the fact, that their customers were driving for Uber or Lyft.

Because of that, a secondary insurance market has sprung up, exclusively for the rideshare market. Various insurance companies offer what are known as rideshare endorsements, to cover the gaps in the insurance offered by Uber and Lyft. But even though those policies can be inexpensive, as little as $15 per month---many drivers don’t buy them.

“In our most recent survey of over 1100 drivers, we did find that a majority of drivers do not have rideshare insurance,” says Harry Campbell, author of the Rideshare Guide and proprietor of the popular website therideshareguy.com. “This is pretty consistent with findings in the past and informal polls we’ve done too.”

Former Lyft driver Mary Campbell thought she had taken care of the insurance issue when she provided proof of her personal policy before starting with Lyft last year.

“I did what I needed to in terms of full coverage,” she said. “But nobody told me how to protect myself.”

She found out last April, when her car was t-boned in the intersection of 63rd and King Drive. Like Beltran, she had not told her insurance carrier she was working as a rideshare driver.

“My insurance at that point pretty much said no, we will not cover you,” she said.

Campbell thought she was covered when she notified Lyft that she had insurance. But she was mistaken---because her company, like so many others, did not extend their private coverage to her rideshare business. Lyft’s insurance policy did cover her accident, since she had a passenger in the car. But the rideshare companies have significant deductibles. Those range from $1,000 for Uber, to $2,500 for Lyft. Campbell said she is still paying off her car, which was effectively demolished in the crash.

“They sold me on a dream,” she said. “I thought, win-win situation. But it has been devastating.”

Harry Campbell, the rideshare web guru, offers extensive information about insurance coverage in every state on his website.

“I recommend all drivers at least get quotes for rideshare insurance,” he told NBC 5. “There are multiple companies in almost every state now, and the prices are competitive with regular insurance policies. Some drivers even save money by switching to rideshare insurance.”

Beltran, the carjack victim, was canceled outright by his insurance company, American Alliance, who noted that on his application, Beltran checked “no” indicating he would not be working as a rideshare driver.

“It is obvious that there was a clear misrepresentation of the endorsed policy application that was provided by the agent to Alliance, and we would never have accepted Mr. Beltran as a risk,” Donald Salerno, the company’s vice president of claims told Hilda Rodriguez of our sister station Telemundo Chicago. “From Alliance’s perspective, we have acted properly in this matter.”

Beltran indicated that the questions were in English and he did not understand everything he had signed. But there is a twist.

Tuesday night, more than a month after it was stolen, his car turned up in a traffic accident in Chicago. Whoever was driving it ran away, and Beltran has notified his former insurance broker that his car was recovered.

Salerno, the insurance company vice-president, indicated they stand by their decision to cancel, because he did not reveal his rideshare status.

As for Lyft, they have expressed concern to Beltran, offering him a week of car rental as he attempted to get his life in order after the September incident.

“What is being described is truly horrific and frightening,” spokesman Lauren Alexander told our Telemundo colleague. “While the incident did not happen on the platform, we have reached out to the driver to extend our support.”

<![CDATA[After Russian Hack in 2016, Election Authorities Prepare for Midterms]]> Tue, 16 Oct 2018 06:51:29 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/LMX___HD+10P+PKG+ELECTION+TAMPERING_WMAQ_000000020290647+-+00003621_34060064.jpg

In Illinois, a majority of voting machines need upgrading and more than 58 percent of local elections jurisdictions said they did not feel they had the resources to adequately secure their voting systems, according to a survey conducted by NBC 5 Investigates. 

NBC 5 sent all 108 local jurisdictions a brief survey to gauge readiness ahead of next month’s mid-term elections. Of the half that responded, despite challenges, 94 percent said they felt well-prepared from a cyber-security standpoint. 

It’s an important distinction following the 2016 hack of the state-run voter registration database. 

Months before the 2016 presidential election, the Illinois State Board of Elections suffered a stunning breach. The personal information of 76,000 voters, including names, birth dates, driver’s license numbers, and in some cases, the last four digits of social security numbers, were viewed by cyber criminals. 

The main culprit: Russia. 

“It was basically like having a really good home security system, but you leave a window wide open and someone comes in,” said Matt Dietrich, public information officer at the State Board of Elections. 

The SBE noticed the error and patched it right away. Investigators said the hackers deployed what’s called an “SQL Injection,” which is commonly used to attack databases. 

SBE officials emphasize the breach only affected the voter registration database. No vote tallies were changed, according to investigators. 

Illinois’ voting machines, while dated, are not connected to the internet and all come with a backup paper ballots, which makes vote manipulating very difficult, experts said. 

Still, election officials are not taking chances ahead of the 2018 mid-term elections and beyond. 

In the wake of U.S. Intelligence’s announcement of Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, the federal government earmarked $380 million in grants to state elections. Illinois’ piece of the pie, with a small state match, is about $14 million to be used to shore up election security and other upgrades. 

It’s not enough money for needed upgrades, such as replacing aging voting equipment, but it’s a start, according to SBE IT Director Matt Emmons. 

“If we were working with a bigger pot, we’ve identified a lot more things that we could potentially do,” said Emmons. 

For now, the State Board of Elections is focusing on implementing the Illinois Century Network, a statewide internet service provider whose goal is to provide technical protections to all 108 local jurisdictions. SBE is also planning to roll out its “Cyber Navigator Program,” a group of nine experts who will travel the state to train local officials. 

“You have jurisdictions like Cook County and Chicago, which obviously have a much greater capacity than other counties which maybe have 6,000 people in them,” said Emmons. “The directive of the program is to provide equal support to all these jurisdictions.”

Even with additional training, some counties are finding it difficult to implement security upgrades without more resources, according to NBC 5’s anonymous survey. 

“Our county does not have the money,” one respondent wrote. 

Despite improvements to cyber-security and infrastructure, there is one threat that elections officials will have a harder time controlling – the misinformation Russian bots spew online. 

“We are going to have to be vigilant on Election Day if there are fake Twitter accounts out there saying, ‘Lines are around the block at (this) polling place. Don’t go vote. It’s not worth your trouble,’” Dietrich said. 

Two years later, SBE officials still don’t know why Russia would target Illinois. But they believe their goal was to undermine confidence in U.S. institutions. 

The best way to combat that, said Dietrich, is to go out and vote. In Illinois, eligible voters can register to vote in person on Election Day on Nov. 6 by going to their polling location and bringing two forms of identification to establish identity and residence.

<![CDATA[Scam Targets Work Email, Mimicking Your Boss]]> Sat, 13 Oct 2018 10:53:48 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Google+Play+Scam+-+00272618_34024967.jpg

Chicago-area marketing professional Kari Hornfeldt said she was checking work emails when she saw a request with her boss' name on it.

The email asked her to buy $1,000 worth of Google Play gift cards for company clients -- and to do it within 30 minutes.

"In hindsight, I should have been like, 'This is weird,' but your boss asks you to do something and you do it," Hornfeldt said.

Turns out, it was part of a scam that targets businesses and their employees.

Hornfeldt bought the gift cards on her personal debit card after her company credit card rejected the purchase.

"I basically used up all of the money in my checking account to buy these cards, knowing full well my company would reimburse me," she said.  

But soon Hornfeldt received more instructions, telling her to "scratch off the back code and email a clear picture of all the codes." 

An email confirmed receipt of the cards and thanked her.

Then came another request: "Sorry to bother you. We need more cards. Get back to me ASAP." 

Hornfeldt drove to a Best Buy in the north suburbs to buy more cards. That's where two quick-thinking employees warned her about the scam.

"They were the heroes in the story," she said.

Hornfeldt had been using her cell phone to check email, and when she took a closer look at the sender's address, she realized it wasn't her boss.

"I have to get this done in 30 minutes," she said. "So it's like by setting that precedent, they're setting you up to maybe miss things that you would catch normally."

The Better Business Bureau said scammers have tried to trick even them with the same type of email. 

Steve Bernas, president and chief executive officer for the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois, said scams like this happen to businesses large and small. 

"If anybody asks you to do something quickly and fast within 30 minutes, that is the scam," Bernas said. "That is the tipoff to the ripoff."

Hornfeldt said it all worked out in the end, and her company reimbursed her.

"My company was really great about it," she said. "I had a cry and then we all came back and had a good laugh about it."

<![CDATA[Find Out the Rate of Opioid-Related Overdoses in Your Town]]> Fri, 09 Nov 2018 22:13:09 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/map+coffey.png

*Editor's Note: The map will be re-published before the NBC 5 News at 10 p.m. 

For the first time ever, the Illinois Department of Public Health has released a key set of data to NBC5 Investigates, which we’ve analyzed and mapped in order to show the towns and neighborhoods that have highest rates of opioid-related overdoses in the Chicago area.

According to health experts and first responders, the influx of overdoses is coming from prescription painkiller abuse, illegal heroin and fentanyl.

[[500141201, C]]

This map shows the number of times that EMS workers have reported using Naloxone – a treatment which can quickly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose -- when workers have responded to emergency calls, from 2012 to the present, for most every zip code in the Chicago area.

The darker the shade on the map, the higher the rate of Naloxone administrations. Although Nalaxone is sometimes be used for other purposes, IDPH experts say that its increased usage gives a clear indication of where more opioid overdoses are happening.

To create this map, NBC5 Investigates divided the number of times that EMS workers administered Naloxone in each zip code, by the total number of EMS runs for that zip code, to compute a rate of Naloxone usage, which, according to IDPH, is directly comparable to that area’s rate of opioid overdoses.

For example, EMS workers in zip code 60525, in southwest-suburban LaGrange, reported that they administered Naloxone 143 times in the past 6-1/2 years, out of a total of more than 21,000 total EMS runs – showing that LaGrange’s rate of opioid overdoses – at 0.68 percent -- is about average for the Chicago area.

However, further to the southwest in the small town of Braceville, more than 3.3 percent of all EMS runs included Naloxone treatments – a rate of opioid overdoses that is significantly higher than average for the area overall.

In Chicago, the map shows a breakdown by neighborhood. For example, EMS workers reported a total of 681 Naloxone administrations in the Bucktown neighborhood in the past 6-1/2 years, which translates to a rate of opioid overdoses of 2.14 percent, which is much higher than the average for the greater Chicago area. A bit further south, in the neighborhood of Humboldt Park, EMS workers reported 2,541 Naloxone administrations out of a total of more than 48,000 EMS runs, for the same period – a rate (4.85 percent) which is significantly higher than the Chicago-area average. Even more sobering: That number of Naloxone treatments translates to an average of 390 opioid overdoses a year – or more than one, every day, just in a single Chicago neighborhood.

This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[A Lot of Chicago Recycling Isn’t Getting Recycled: Report]]> Thu, 11 Oct 2018 16:42:01 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/AP_18249711231491-EL-Harvey-Recycling-Warehouse.jpg

You do all that work every day to recycle: Rinsing out jars; separating paper and plastic; dragging your bins to the curb. But -- depending on where you live -- it could be in vain.

A new investigation by NBC 5 Investigates’ reporting partner, the Better Government Association, reveals that more than half a million bins in Chicago have instead been dumped into landfills, just in the past 4-1/2 years. That’s enough recyclables-turned-trash to fill up Wrigley Field -- and then some.

Much of the problem stems from a city rule that says that one plastic bag or food item can cause all of the perfectly-recyclable material in that bin to be labelled as “grossly contaminated,” which requires waste-haulers to dump it all into a landfill.

The BGA found that the company that most often labels a bin “contaminated” – Waste Management – then sometimes gets paid twice for those “contaminated” bins: Once for picking up your recycling at the curb, and then again, after it’s labeled as contaminated, when it gets dumped in the company’s for-profit landfill.

This is all happening at the same time that Chicago ranks as the worst major city in the nation for residential recycling rates – and long after Mayor Rahm Emanuel promised big improvements to the city’s recycling program, back in 2011.

To find out how likely it is that your recycling is ending up in landfills instead, check out the BGA’s complete investigation, “Recycling in Chicago.” You can also search the BGA’s “Contamination Map,” and follow a single plastic water bottle as it makes its way to a recycling center – or a landfill.

Photo Credit: Charles Krupa/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Which CTA Train Lines Break Down the Most and Why]]> Wed, 03 Oct 2018 21:58:20 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/10P+PKG+CTA+BREAKDOWNS+ROGERS+-+00013328_338958881.jpg

Anyone who’s ever been stuck on a stopped el train knows it’s not a pleasant experience. Number one, you’re getting nowhere fast. Then there’s the fact you are cooped up in a metal tube with total strangers for an indeterminate amount of time.

The CTA says it knows that---and they share your pain.

“We recognize there is an issue, and we agree with you that that issue needs to be addressed,” says the agency’s Brian Steele. But he quickly added, “Mechanical disruptions that lead to service delays are pretty rare.”

He’s right. Out of the hundreds of thousands of miles traveled by CTA trains during any given year---an actual stopped train doesn’t happen that often.

But an analysis by NBC 5 shows that it does happen on Blue Line trains more than all others.

Responding to an open records request, the CTA said between January of 2017 to May 2018, there were 471 disruptions of 10 minutes or longer. Of those 469 breakdowns, 162 were on the Blue Line. The Red Line was second with 94, followed by the Green with 55.

“First and foremost, the Blue Line is our second busiest line---it’s also our longest rail line,” Steele said. Plus---it’s also the line which may have gotten the least amount of TLC in recent years.

“The Blue Line has some of our older rail car series---they were built in the early and mid-1980’s,” he notes. “They’ve been overhauled since, but they’re reaching the age where they need to be retired.”

Steele likened the Blue to a road filled with potholes---leading to slow zones, and a lot of wear and tear.

“When the rail is worn, you have to run trains at a slower speed.”

What about the causes of breakdowns? The CTA data showed the number one issue is brakes.

“Brakes are one of the most complex components to a rail car, probably second to the propulsion system that moves the rail car,” Steele noted. “If just one small part of that larger system fails, then we have a braking issue where the operator has to leave the train and check.”

Bingo. Stopped train.

The second leading cause of disruptions is doors, followed by train propulsion systems.

“A train won’t actually be able to move unless the doors are properly secured,” he said. “Remember, the doors open and close hundreds, if not thousands of times during a service day.”

It’s important to note that CTA trains make some 12 thousand trips in a given week, and most take place without incident. And it would only be fair to argue that if you are really unhappy with having to sit next to that guy playing the saxophone in a stopped train---you might want to take it up with Springfield.

“Since 2011, the CTA has completed, announced, or begun over $8 billion in modernization projects,” Steele notes. But he also points out that the State of Illinois hasn’t managed a capital bill since 2009. And the Civic Federation said in a recent report, that the CTA’s “state of good repair” backlog is approaching $13 billion.

Indeed, that same Civic Federation report warned that the CTA will need over $23 billion over 10 years just to address its backlogged needs.

Steele notes another issue which prevents the addition of more trains on the Blue Line: power. Anyone who has tried to plug too many appliances into the kitchen counter, knows there are only so many watts to go around.

“We are running, right now, as many trains as possible, on the O’Hare branch of the Blue Line during the am/pm rush,” he says. “We are running as many trains as possible, and we are running them as closely together, as we can.”

One other note. A 2016 report shows that the CTA manages over 22,000 miles between major mechanical failures, even though 25 percent of its vehicles are now classified as “beyond their useful life”. But even that put Chicago in fifth place among America’s mass transit systems. Philadelphia and Houston both say at least 39 percent of their rolling stock is obsolete.


From January 2017 to May 2018, the CTA had 469 disruptions of 10 minutes or longer. Here they are, by line, and by cause.


  • Blue Line 162
  • Red Line 94
  • Green Line 55
  • Orange Line 53
  • Purple Line 42
  • Brown Line 35
  • Pink Line 23
  • Yellow Line 5


  • Brakes 185
  • Doors 146
  • Propulsion 67
  • Suspension 25
  • Communications 12
  • Coupler & draw Bar 7
  • No Defect 7
  • Trucks & wheels 5
  • AC/Heat-ventilation 4
  • Windows 3
  • Traction power 2
  • Destination sign 1
  • HVAC 1
  • Lighting 1
  • Network 1
  • Converter/inverter 1
  • Emergency 1

<![CDATA[Scam Robocalls Are On the Rise, and Help May Be on the Way]]> Wed, 03 Oct 2018 10:14:09 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/161*120/robocalls+nbc+responds-1.jpg

As unwanted calls continue to proliferate, many mobile phone users have simply stopped answering the phone. But new technology is on the horizon that could sharply cut the number of scam and spam calls we all receive daily.

Fraudulent calls — frequently originating overseas — have spiked sharply since 2017. In a study published this month, tech analyst First Orion projected by next year, nearly half of all calls to mobile phones will be scam calls. Of those, First Orion researchers say more than 90 percent will use caller ID "spoofing" — displaying a fake call-back number — to trick potential targets.

NBC Bay Area wanted to know, why is the problem of spam calls getting worse? How do fraudulent callers spoof caller ID? Why don't phone companies simply shut them down? And, what is the government doing to stop scammers? The answers we found are complicated, but there's also hope of a solution on the horizon.

An explosion of unwanted calls
Most of the calls from scammers and fraudsters are made with auto-dialers, and are known as "robocalls." Irvine-based tech firm YouMail estimates 4.2 billion robocalls were placed nationwide last month, amounting to about 13 calls per phone user.

Ethan Garr, Vice President of anti-spam calling firm TelTech, tells NBC Bay Area the numbers are staggering.

"Over 3,000 calls are being made every second to Americans," Garr said.

TelTech makes an app called RoboKiller. The company was awarded a $25,000 prize from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for its spam call-fighting technology.

Garr tells NBC Bay Area the surge in caller ID spoofing by spam callers has conditioned most of us to simply stop answering our phones.

"I would guess 40 percent of the calls you get, you can trust the caller ID," He said.

We asked Garr how scammers spoof caller ID. He said it's pretty easy.  TelTech also makes SpoofCard, an app that lets any mobile phone user choose any number to show up on a call recipient's caller ID. Garr says it's pretty simple, because caller ID is a decades-old technology.

"It was an add-on into the phone system," Garr said. "It wasn't something that was invented so people could manipulate it or change it. It was a way for people to see who was calling, but it got co-opted over time."

Unfortunately, scammers were among those doing the co-opting of caller ID.

The robocall problem - it's complicated
For years, YouMail has tracked the rapid rise in computer-dialed phone calls.  It offers apps to help phone users block them. CEO Alex Quilici says the reluctance of most people to stop answering unknown calls has only made scammers more determined.

"They're clever, and they want to get through, so they're picking random numbers to call," Quilici said. "People are not answering the calls any more, if they can help it. They just assume, 'This is a number I've never seen before; I'm not going to pick up the phone.' So the bad guys try to call more and more numbers, to try to get through. It's a little bit of a death spiral for the phone network."

So, why can't the U.S. government simply ban all robocalls? 

Eric Troutman, an attorney with Womble Bond Dickinson, tells us it's not that simple.

"We need to have a better definition of what a 'robocall' is," Troutman said.  "When I think about what a robocall is, I think a scam, pre-recorded call; generally, random-fired, and probably by some bad actor overseas someplace. You might think that a reminder call to go pick up your pills at the pharmacy is a robocall."

Troutman represents clients such as banks that auto-dial fraud alerts, and pharmacies that use robocalls to inform patients of prescription refills. He welcomes tougher federal laws for scammers, but not a robocall ban.

"What is it that we're actually trying to prevent?" Troutman said. "Is it that we're trying to prevent American businesses from contacting their customers with account-specific information that their customer needs? I don't think so."

Troutman, who also writes for and edits telecom law website TCPAland.com, is a critic of the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act, or TCPA. He says the 1991 law — written long before widespread mobile phone and internet use — is badly in need of replacement.

"Congress needs to focus on scammers," Troutman said. "When we've got a lot of noise out there, trying to shift the focus from bad actors to legitimate American businesses, you're going to get a lot of push-back when it comes time to draft that statute."

Technological impediments and solutions
The other major challenge to blocking scam calls is the aging, sprawling national telephone system. Alex Quilici with YouMail told us that makes any effort to stop spam callers a daunting task.

"There are 3,000 [phone] carriers in the U.S.," Quilici said. "There are multiple billions of phone calls every day. To roll out something like that is a pretty massive undertaking."

The good news is the major players in telecommunications are trying. Right now, a consortium of technology engineers, phone service providers, and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission are developing a sweeping update to caller ID. Known by the acronyms STIR and SHAKEN, the caller ID authentication standards will make it much more difficult for spam calls to get through.

Here's how it might work: calls from someone using a verified phone line, approved by a certification authority, could show up on your phone screen with something like a green checkmark. That way, you'll know the caller ID can be trusted. 

Conversely, calls that come in through scammers' preferred routes, such as unverified overseas phone services, will be flagged. You might see a red "X" or a "caller not verified" message with their caller ID. Or, your mobile carrier might be able to block all such calls before they get to your phone.

The new caller ID authentication standards could be rolling out to our phones as early as next year. While the measures should reduce the number of unwanted calls we get, it won't stop them altogether. Ethan Garr with TelTech says we can count on scammers' persistence and greed.

"They hate us," Garr said. "They don't care about us. They don't think of us as humans. They want to get to us. They want to steal from us."

This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[Taxpayers Spend Thousands to Contradict ‘Code of Silence']]> Mon, 24 Sep 2018 21:44:41 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/code+of+silence+investigates+bga.jpg

It was perhaps Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s most emotional moment to date: A speech he gave before the Chicago City Council in 2015, during the fallout from the city’s handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting, in which the mayor acknowledged that a “code of silence” existed within the Chicago Police Department.

"It is the tendency to deny,” Emanuel said at the time of the CPD. “It is the tendency – in some cases – to cover up the bad actions of a colleague or colleagues."

But NBC5 Investigates, in a joint investigation with the Better Government Association, has discovered that the city has been paying a police expert to testify the precise opposite: That there is no “code of silence” within the CPD.

[[370990061, C]]

NBC5 and the BGA found at least 26 civil court cases where Jeffrey Noble, a police expert based in southern California, has been hired by the city’s Law Department to offer testimony in lawsuits filed by people claiming that they were victims of Chicago police misconduct. Noble has billed city taxpayers more than $325,000 for his testimony in those 26 cases.

In many of those cases, NBC5 and the BGA found that Noble specifically offered his expert opinion that there was no “code of silence” within the CPD. That includes five cases where Noble offered his testimony after Emanuel made that 2015 speech. In all five of those cases, Noble directly contradicted the mayor by specifically testifying that there was no such “code of silence.” The cost to taxpayers for those five cases alone: More than $165,000.

For more details about the joint NBC5/BGA investigation click here.

<![CDATA[18 Convictions Overturned in Cases Tied to Disgraced Cop]]> Mon, 24 Sep 2018 16:25:59 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/MASS+EXONERATION+HEARING+-+10135917_33767891.png

In an extraordinary move, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx did something Monday which isn't often done in Chicago's criminal justice system. 

She apologized. 

Foxx's comments were directed to 18 men, whose convictions had just been thrown out by Chief Judge Leroy Martin. All 18 were arrested at the hands of notorious police sergeant Ronald Watts and his tainted tactical unit, which critics say ran roughshod and virtually unsupervised for a decade on Chicago’s South Side. 

"The system owes an apology to the men who stand behind us,” Foxx declared, after standing at the back of the court and shaking hands with each of the plaintiffs as they walked from the bench. "We know that what was happening with Sgt. Watts, and the way he ran his operation, is that there were many men and women who fell victim to his corrupt ways."

While even fellow officers pointed to corruption in the unit, only Watts and one of his officers, Kallatt Mohammed, were ever prosecuted for shaking down and framing residents of the Ida B. Wells housing project. Both went to prison. 

"It's noteworthy to me who's not here, and that's the city and the Chicago Police Department," attorney Joshua Tepfer said after court. "(They) really owe the apology to these men and so many others, for letting this happen and covering it up for so long." 

Indeed, residents of the Wells housing project had long argued that residents there were being unjustly targeted. 

"They put cases on people who didn't cooperate with their corrupt schemes, took bribes, stole money and drugs from drug dealers, and really ruined the lives of dozens---maybe hundreds," attorney Joel Flaxman said. "These officers knew who they were, would go after them, and would frame them over and over again."

With Monday's exonerations, at least 42 individuals have now seen their convictions overturned. And the State’s Attorney’s office says it is examining many more. 

"I believe in the interest of public safety in Cook County, we must have a criminal justice system that has integrity and credibility," Foxx said. "That means that we have to admit when things have gone wrong and actively work to fix it." 

"Maybe this is a day of reckoning," attorney Sean Starr told reporters. "We hope that the officers that are on the street that see things happening-don't continue to play a complicit part in this. Speak up."

Photo Credit: NBC 5]]>
<![CDATA[More Exonerations Expected in Case of Tainted Cops]]> Fri, 21 Sep 2018 18:05:43 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/LMX___6P+PKG+WATTS+SENTENCING_WMAQ_000000004369448+%28Read-Only%29+Version1+-+00000125_30392113.png

At least 18 men are expected see their convictions overturned Monday in Cook County Criminal Court. It will mark the second, and largest, mass exoneration linked to a tainted tactical unit which operated for more than a decade on Chicago’s South Side.

The newest dismissals will make a total of at least 42 individuals who even prosecutors concede were almost certainly framed by Sgt. Ronald Watts and his tactical team at the Ida B. Wells housing project.

“We continue to hear that many of these arrests were purely conjured,” said Mark Rotert, the Chief of the State’s Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit. “They were basically arresting people and framing them or were claiming that they were involved in drug offenses that either didn’t occur or didn’t occur the way that those police officers said.”

Rotert said in the cases in question, it was clear that prosecutors could not take the word of the officers or the reports that they had generated as reliable evidence.

“These people really suffered at the hands of the Chicago Police Department, these officers, and the coverup that happened thereafter,” said attorney Joshua Tepfer. “There’s large numbers, but these are human beings, and they all suffered.”

Previously, Watts and one of his officers, Kallat Mohammed, were convicted of shaking down drug dealers who refused to make protection payments. Both went to prison.

Rotert was careful to say that prosecutors have primarily scrutinized cases involving those two officers. But residents of the former Wells project have long contended that others in Watts’ unit were involved in corrupt activities.

Last fall, shortly after the cases of 15 men were overturned in what was then the largest mass exoneration in Chicago history, over a dozen officers were pulled from the street amid an investigation of their potential involvement in the growing scandal.

And there are more cases in line. Attorneys have argued that the wrongdoing led to the wrongful convictions of hundreds of individuals.

“These cases are exactly the same modus operandi that was happening for a decade,” Tepfer said. “These Chicago Police officers led by a convicted felon named Ronald Watts were running their own drug line and shaking down anyone who got in their way, and planting cases on people routinely.”

Tepfer expects convictions of a dozen of his clients to be dismissed Monday. Attorney Joel Flaxman says he has another six, including one individual, Ricky Henderson, who was arrested four times and did a total of five years behind bars.

“They would pick him up again and frame him again,” Flaxman says. “No one was paying attention to very low-level drug arrests!”

While the officers were taken off the street and put on desk duty, many of them were also certified by the state’s attorney’s office as unusable as witnesses in criminal cases.

All of the cases involving the Watts crew centered on the now-demolished Ida B. Wells project.

“That’s where I grew up, was born and raised,” said Milton Delaney, who expects his drug conviction to be thrown out on Monday. “I was a familiar face.”

Delaney says he was merely sitting in his car when Watts ordered him taken into custody.

“Watts walked up, looked in and saw me, and said, ‘Take him to the station,’” Delaney said. “He looked at it like, ‘I’m going to get you for something before it’s over with!’”

Tepfer said he has dozens of similar individuals in line, waiting to be heard. And Rotert confirmed that the state’s attorney expects more cases to be overturned.

“There will be more,” he told NBC 5. “I can’t give you a timetable nor can I give you any particular numbers, but I can say that progress has been made and continues to be made, but there will be more cases."

<![CDATA[Video Shows Grandmother Stuffed in Suitcase, Family Says]]> Fri, 14 Sep 2018 21:49:33 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/5P+PKG+DAISY+HAYES+MISSING+-+00002316_32196927.jpg

Chicago is a city where too many people get away with murder.

In fact, a recent study on gun violence from the University of Chicago Crime Lab shows only 26 percent of murder cases in 2016 were solved.

This past weekend community groups and victim’s families marched and met with law makers to voice their concerns.

“My message is let’s stop this killing," said Rev. Robin Hood. "And the only way we’re going to do it is if we have enough detectives, enough resources for them."

They are demanding more action from detectives and prosecutors.

NBC 5 sat down with one family that says there is plenty of evidence to solve their unsolved case and some of it was even caught on tape.

Teresa Smith’s mother has been missing for months. Relatives say 65-year-old Daisey Hayes walked into her Chicago Housing Authority apartment building on the night of May 1--but never walked out.

Smith says the police have told her to “be patient.”

Smith says someone anonymously sent her security video from inside the building showing a man leaving early the next morning, pulling a bulky suitcase out of the elevator toward the exit door. What looks like a bulge on the right side is visible in the footage.

Smith thinks that bulge is her mother's body, she says.

“I can see her whole leg, her whole leg print," Smith said.

How could a body fit in a suitcase that size? Teresa Smith says her mother is tiny, about 5 foot 2 inches and 85 pounds.

Smith says she doesn't know where the man in the video is now, but that he was briefly in police custody.

“They kept him for 48 hours sometime in May but then let him go,” she said.

NBC 5 is not naming the man because he has not been charged. But NBC 5 Investigates found that in 1985 he was charged with two counts of murder but not convicted.

Prosecutors dropped the case after a witness failed to show up in court on several occasions. In 2012 he was charged with battery but again the charges were dropped.

Chicago police would only say that they have identified a person of interest in this case, have spoken to prosecutors and are waiting test results from the crime lab.

The family of Daisy Hayes say they have waited long enough.

“How patient would you be if it was your mother," Smith said.

<![CDATA[OIG: CPS, CPD Lack Direction for School Resource Officers]]> Fri, 14 Sep 2018 12:59:45 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/SRO+TRAINING+BILL+-+00001928_33322113.jpg

Chicago Police does not have clear directives on how it selects, trains and evaluates the officers who will be stationed inside Chicago Public Schools, according to a report by the city’s Inspector General

Further, the report concluded that neither CPD nor CPS could even provide an up-to-date list of which officers were assigned to which schools. 

“CPD’s current lack of guidance and structure for SROs amplifies community concerns and underscores the high probability that students are unnecessarily becoming involved in the criminal justice system, despite the availability of alternate solutions,” Inspector General Joe Ferguson said in the report. 

CPS previously told NBC 5 Investigates that officers were currently stationed in 75 high schools, down from 97 schools in 2010. 

The district responded to a Freedom of Information Request by asking us to contact Chicago Police for guidelines and school assignments. 

However, the two agencies have not had a legal agreement detailing the roles and responsibilities of school resource officers since December 2016. 

Michelle Mbekeani-Wiley, a staff attorney for the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, who drafted a 2017 report called “Handcuffs in the Hallways,” said operating an SRO program without a memorandum of understanding is problematic. 

“If you insist on having police officers stationed in your school, make sure they are adequately trained because you’re going to spend more money on potential civil rights violations and misconduct settlements,” Mbekeani-Wiley said. 

The OIG recommends CPS and CPD immediately enter into an agreement that emphasizes officers should not be involved in routine student disciplinary matters; designates a program coordinator to enhance coordination and accountability; maintains and regularly updates rosters of officers assigned to CPS; establishes ongoing training for officers assigned as SROs. 

In response to the report, CPD said it would “undertake best efforts to enter into an MOU with CPS” and develop policies that define SRO roles and responsibilities. 

“(We concur) with a majority of (the Inspector General’s) recommendations. This is why we created a specific section in the federal consent decree that was filed in court,” said CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. “In short, school resource offices will obtain specialized training focusing on national best practices for dealing with youth. The training will also center around improved crisis-intervention training, cultural diversity and incident de-escalation.” 

CPS also echoed CPD’s consent decree in improving police outcomes in schools. 

“CPS has taken dramatic steps to improve school climates and reduce punitive discipline to improve students’ academic and safety outcomes by focusing on restorative practices and social-emotional learning,” said CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton.

<![CDATA[Garbage! What You Should and Shouldn't Recycle in Chicago]]> Fri, 07 Sep 2018 12:28:53 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/WMAQ_000000031525289_1200x675_1315076163601.jpg

What happens to your recyclable garbage after it's picked up in Chicago? NBC 5 Investigates' Chris Coffey went behind the scenes to show the process. Turns out, Chicagoans are recycling items that should never be in those blue bins, and it could impact where all those recyclables end up. Here are some tips to keep handy.

<![CDATA[What You Recycle Can Impact What Becomes New Products]]> Wed, 05 Sep 2018 21:42:20 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/RECYCLING+COFFEY+-+00002905_33535995.jpg

If you want to make sure the paper products that you place at the front curb have a better chance of becoming new products, don’t even think about tossing plastic grocery bags or greasy pizza boxes in to your recycling bins.

Chicago area recycling companies are urging residents and business to be mindful of what they include in their blue bins as the industry reacts to strict new requirements from world’s biggest buyer of recyclables: China.

China had been taking half of the world’s paper and plastic, but said the material it used to accept was too dirty. The country has tightened the contamination limit to 0.5 percent for most imports of recyclables.

That means buyers in China can reject bails of recyclable mixed paper (newspaper, junk mail, magazines) shipped from the United States if there is too much food waste or too many plastic bags contaminating the bail.

“It’s required us to slow our lines down significantly in order to do a better job on recovering the commodities, so it’s added some additional operational costs to us,” said Tom Vujovic, recycling operations director of Waste Management Illinois.

Waste Management said this time last year it sent 27% of its recyclables to China. Today, the company only sends about 3% of its material to China.

Vujovic said the company is now shipping recyclables to other markets such as India, South Korea, Malaysia and parts of Europe.

Local recyclers said customers should never place food waste, plastic bags, household batteries, wood, yard waste, plastic children’s toys, cords, diapers, wire, garden hoses or medical waste in to their recycling bins.

But sometimes the wrong items sneak past the screening process at recycling sorting facilities, which can impact how equipment runs as well as hinder the chances of material being reprocessed.

“When we receive 100 tons of material, about 25% of that should never have been there in the first place,” said Cal Tigchelaar of Resource Management.

At the moment, there do not appear to be any Chicago area communities cutting back on recycling. But recyclers told NBC 5 Investigates that the changes in China and their subsequent operational cost increases could trickle down to consumers.

Tigchelaar said during the past ten years, Resource Management paid as much as $60/ton for residentially generated recyclable single-stream material. However, he said the company is now charging approximately $30/ton.

Aluminum and glass products are still being processed regionally by the U. S. recycling industry. Additionally, local recycling advocates said there are buyers in the Midwest that can take much of the material that has been banned or limited in China.

“There are paper mills that will take fiber,” said Kris Kaar of the Illinois Recycling Association. “The key is what you send them. The material has to be what they can use.”

Recyclers said customers should be placing in their recycling bins the following items for collection: plastic bottles and containers, food and beverage cans, paper, flattened cardboard and paperboard, food and beverage cartons, steel cans and glass bottles.

But the key is to remove food waste from the containers, since moisture is a contamination. If you have a pizza box, try recycling only the dry sections of the cardboard.

Carter O’Brien of the Chicago Recycling Coalition said the city take should take sustainability efforts a step further.

“If the city of Chicago could get that wet food waste out of the system all together by having a dedicated composting curb side, then that would take care of a lot of the contamination,” O’Brien said.

<![CDATA[New Law Toughens Penalties for Impaired Wrong-Way Drivers]]> Fri, 31 Aug 2018 20:18:38 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/210*120/Wrong+Way+Drivers.jpg

Drunk driving the wrong way on Illinois roadways is now a felony.

The governor has signed a bill in to law that makes wrong way driving an aggravated factor in driving under the influence of alcohol arrests. It allows for judges to allot additional penalties and longer prison terms at the sentencing phase of a trial.

Previously, a judge could not take wrong-way driving into consideration during sentencing.

This is the first such law in the nation.

“This is really good news. This is huge. Hopefully, it’ll set a precedent for the rest of the country to follow suit,” said Lisa Smith, who lost her son to a wrong-way driver in 2015.

Steven Smith was a U.S. Marine reservist and had been a Chicago Ridge police officer for seven months when he was killed in the crash near Oak Brook.

According to his mother, the wrong way driver’s punishment did not fit the crime.

“The whole reason why I’ve been so vocal is to be able to help someone going through this to know there’s going to be justice for their loved ones. With this new law, if they hit someone, it’s going to be automatic jail time,” Smith said.

A 2015 NBC 5 Investigates analysis of state records revealed more than 50 people have been killed and nearly 300 have been injured by wrong-way drivers in Illinois since 2005.

Riverside Police Chief Tom Weitzel cited the NBC 5 investigation while helping lawmakers draft new legislation.

State Rep. Mike Zalewski (D) of the 23rd District sponsored the bill.

“I’d like to thank Lisa Smith for her patience as we worked to pass this important law as a testament to her son, Chief Weitzel for bringing the bill to my attention, Senator Mike Hastings for being the bill’s champion in the Senate, and Governor Rauner for his signature,” Zalewski said.

The law has safety provisions for non-intoxicated people who enter the roadway the wrong way.

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<![CDATA[No OSHA Violations as Chicago Water Plant Before Explosion]]> Thu, 30 Aug 2018 22:01:22 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/WEB_6P_NBC5_INVESTIGATES_BUILDING_COLLAPSE_OSHA_ROGERS.jpg

NBC 5 Investigates has been looking into the timeline of the collapse and rescues. We've also learned there have been no OSHA violations at the plant. NBC 5's Phil Rogers reports.

<![CDATA[More Than 9,000 Crashes on Ill. Roads Caused by Debris]]> Thu, 30 Aug 2018 21:02:30 -0600 https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/10P+PKG+ROAD+DEBRIS+V2+-+00000825_33456808.jpg

Seventeen people have been killed in crashes caused by debris on Illinois roadways, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation’s most recent data. 

From 2012 to 2016, more than 9,000 accidents have resulted in more than 1,500 people injured. 

IDOT maintenance crews are deployed daily to cruise public roadways to pick up debris. 

“We’ve found kitchen sinks, furniture, dressers, mattresses,” said Gregg Leschman, who works from the Stevenson Maintenance Yard. “It’s terribly dangerous to the motorist. A lot of this is picked up on the shoulder, but that’s not where it lands on the highway. It gets to the shoulder because people keep running it over.” 

IDOT urges all drivers to properly secure the loads to account for the high travel speeds on expressways. 

“It could become fatal from something very small, so we take our jobs very seriously,” said highway maintainer Kevin Lorick.