Illinois : Safety by City
- Arlington Heights
- Crystal Lake
- Des Plaines
- East St Louis
- Fairview Heights
- Granite City
- Mount Prospect
- Oak Lawn
- Rock Island
- Tinley Park
Des Plaines, Illinois, sits in the northwest corner of the Chicago suburbs, being the northern border of O’Hare International Airport.
This offers many hotels in the southwest corner of the city for a tourist to be closer to the airport and close to Chicago culture at the same time.
The Des Plaines River runs through the east part of the city, giving you a bunch of outdoor options.
There’s fun to be had outdoors during any season, even when the temperatures get extremely cold or hot.
A movie fun fact in Des Plaines is that the Brat Pack movie The Breakfast Club was shot at a high school here.
Notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy lived just five miles from here.
The first McDonald’s under the Ray Kroc franchise stood here for many years, as one YouTuber put it, “way back in the 1900s.”
The unfortunate part is that none of the buildings mentioned about still exists, aside from the film location which is no longer a high school.
I give you these little fun facts (or not-so-fun facts in the case of a serial killer) because the tourism website for the city only has four options on it and one is a library.
I did find some other things to do outside of the city’s recommendation, like a casino on the river.
All-State Arena looks like it should be in Des Plaines, but it’s technically in Rosemont.
Close enough. That’s where some big-name acts come to perform and it’s the home of the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves and Northwestern’s men’s basketball.
Just so we’re all on the same page, it’s pronounced “Dess Planes.”
Warnings & Dangers in Des Plaines
OVERALL RISK : LOW
There's a low risk in Des Plaines and it's listed as one of the Top 50 Safest Cities in Illinois. Even the violent crime rate is 75% lower than the state average.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
In Des Plaines, you can use the Metra train service or the PACE bus service to get around Chicago and the suburbs. Taxis and rideshares are going to be available in minutes since it's so close to O'Hare. You can also easily rent a car and hop on one of several nearby freeways. All options are a low risk, but when riding public transportation in a big city there's always going to be a risk if you let your guard down.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
There's a low risk here and the theft rate is almost half the national average. You should still take preventative steps, like keeping your wallet in the front pocket instead of the back one, but the chances of it happening here are slim.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
There's a medium risk and the biggest concern is flooding throughout the year. The river being close is great for everything except rising water. You can search online and find some pretty shocking flooding videos of Des Plaines. Thunderstorms that produce tornadoes are also a concern when it is warm out and you'll get snow and ice throughout the winter.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
There's a low risk of getting mugged. 14 robberies were reported in 2020, which adds up to half the average of the national robbery rate. There is a trend of gun crime growing in Illinois, so if you are unlucky enough to get robbed, comply with demands so you don't risk your life for a purse or iPhone.
TERRORISM RISK : MEDIUM
Des Plaines isn't a direct target for a terror group, but being in a large population area like Chicago and being next door to a major airport is going to give it medium risk.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
There are several phone scams that make their way through Des Plaines every year, but none that impact tourists. I will say as someone who lived in Las Vegas for many years, there's a trend in casinos where people approach you and ask for "gas money" or "money for my starving babies." They know you can't say you don't have any money because you're gambling with cash. If you do get approached by someone like this, don't give them money and report them to casino security. I made the mistake once on a lucky day of giving someone $20 and it seems word got out because five more people approached me.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
The sexual assault rate is half the national average, so that's good news, even though one sexual assault is too many. Women should have a low risk here, but you should use caution regardless. Also, study up on our other Chicago area cities so you know the risk of where you are going because crime rates can change at a city border.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The 2021 Annual Water Quality Report is out and there's a low risk. Here's a quote from the report, "We are happy to report your tap water met all USEPA and state drinking water standards and the City had no violation of a contaminant level or of any other water quality standard in 2021."
Safest Places to Visit in Des Plaines
If you really want to get the local flavor, check out the city website and the Des Plaines Theatre section so you can see hyper-local events happening closer to your visit.
The Chicago area is rich in individual neighborhood activities.
To learn about the community’s past, visit the Des Plaines History Center.
The museum is free (donations accepted) and is open every day but Saturday.
If it’s extremely cold or a lot of snowfalls, the museum will be closed, so check before you go if you’re there during a winter storm.
There are three park districts in Des Plains:
- Des Plaines Park District
- Elk Grove Park District
- Mount Prospect Park District
Each park and preserve offers unique amenities, but they have a lot in common, like hiking and biking trails, wildlife viewing, and some have lakes for fishing, boating, and kayaking.
The Des Plaines City Website also has an interactive map of all the Cook County Forest Preserves.
You’d be surprised how much outdoor area there is to explore in a major metropolitan area.
As I write this in mid-2022, the downtown area is only described as “vibrant” and it’s also where the community theater is.
I was perplexed as to why there wasn’t a whole website for downtown amenities.
It turns out the development of downtown is underway, but it’s not 100% clear what exactly is coming.
Rivers Casinos is a great place to play slots or table games and also has several restaurant options.
You can also check the calendar of events there, as they get some cool acts as well.
Places to Avoid in Des Plaines
The far northeast side of town and the area along I-90 are shown on crime maps to have the highest crime rates.
Given how low crime is here, that’s not really saying a lot.
There isn’t a bad part of town or places you should avoid here, but it’s always smart to stay on highways or surface streets when visiting a new place.
If you’re looking for that “original” McDonald’s on Lee Street, you won’t find it.
There is a McDonald’s just across the way, but it’s not the original one.
The original location was torn down, rebuilt, flooded, and torn down again.
There’s now just an empty lot.
There are no plans to do anything to memorialize the first McDonald’s.
Unlike Des Plaines, you don’t pronounce the “s” in Illinois.
It’s pronounced “Ill-in-OYE” instead of “Ill-in-NOISE.”
If you say it wrong, it will just signal that you are a tourist.
There’s no penalty or anything, but you might get an eye roll or two.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Des Plaines
- You can sign up for crime bulletins on the police department’s website, where every day or every few days a list of all crimes in the community is emailed out.
- If you notice people underneath vehicles in a parking garage or lot, they might be part of a growing trend of catalytic converter thefts. The thieves take the car part and sell it to a scrap yard and theft can happen sometimes without setting off a car alarm. If you see anyone suspicious under a car, call 911.
- If you like to get around by bicycle, you’ll be happy to know the city has undergone many upgrades to the bicycle lanes in Des Plaines. On the city website, you can view an interactive map of the routes so you know where bike lanes are installed.
- There is a lot of free parking in Des Plaines, but you will have to pay to park at the Metra commuter stations. It will cost $1.50 for two hours.
- The Des Plaines trail system has three entry and exit points in Des Plaines, but if time gets away from you, it’s important to know this trail goes 50 miles, so you could end up a long way from your hotel. The trails are open as long as the sun is up.
- We talked earlier about how you can watch the Wolves play at the arena, but you might also see real coyotes in Des Plaines. There have been sightings in several neighborhoods over the past few years. Coyotes are not a threat to humans and generally will avoid you. Don’t try to bait a coyote and certainly don’t feed it. Generally, by the time you can say, “Is that a coyote?”, it’s gone. If you do come face to face with one, wave your arms and make noise. Don’t turn and run. Illinois law doesn’t allow coyotes to be removed unless they are posing a risk to humans.
- You’ll need a fishing license for any fishing in Des Plaines, Cook County, and Illinois. You can get one through the state of Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Your home fishing license won’t suffice.
- If you want to go sledding during your Des Plaines visit, you can go to Arndt Park Sled Hill. There is never going to be any supervision for safety, so you need to take careful steps to protect the safety of you and your family. The hill is open daily until 10:00 pm. Check with the Des Plaines Park Service website or social media accounts to check if the sledding hill is open.
- There are four ice rinks in the Des Plaines Park System. If there is fresh snow, you can’t skate until the city crews remove the snow. You’ll need to check the status of the ice rinks to see if they are open. Dress in warm layers as these ice rinks are outside.
- You’ll hear police in Des Plaines talk about the “9pm Routine” often. This is a nationwide initiative police departments can choose to be part of where it’s encouraged for everyone to be inside their homes by 9:00 pm. This is because more crimes happen after 9:00pm than any other time of day. By 9:00 pm you should check that your car is locked with the windows rolled up and all personal belongings are out of the vehicle, and that your doors and windows are locked at your rental home or hotel room.
So... How Safe Is Des Plaines Really?
Des Plaines is a place with such good safety ratings that the biggest annoyance during your stay will probably be airport noise from O’Hare International Airport.
There were no homicides in 2020, and the city hasn’t had more than two homicides in a year going back to at least 2010.
For comparison of violent crime rates, the national risk is one in 399.
In Des Plaines, it’s one in 1,411.
Even with low ratings, there are still crime trends in Chicago and Illinois to know about and those include gang violence, gun violence, and drug violations.
It takes community policing to help keep the numbers down, so you should report anything suspicious you see.
Never take a drug that doesn’t come from a licensed pharmacy, as a new trend is people selling prescription drugs that are indistinguishable on sight from the real ones.
The risk is compounded by the Fentanyl Crisis, where the drugs are laced with the cheaper Fentanyl, but you have no way of knowing that.
Just a sprinkle of Fentanyl can kill the average man.
How Does Des Plaines Compare?
|Niagara Falls (Canada)||87|
|Buenos Aires (Argentina)||60|
- Visas - You will have to provide a Visa when traveling to Chicago from outside the United States. You should start that process at least four months out so you can complete all the steps in time. You won't need to show your Visa to travel between different cities, but you will need it at the airport, so don't check it in your baggage.
- Currency - You can only use the U.S. Dollar here. There is currency exchange at O'Hare International. You shouldn't carry around a large amount of cash, and credit cards or mobile payments are widely accepted.
- Weather - You should plan to dress in layers throughout the year, as Midwestern weather is notoriously unpredictable. Summers are going to be humid and winters can get below freezing and, at times, below 0°(F). Always bring sturdy walking shoes and bug spray.
- Airports - O'Hare is five miles from Des Plaines, so it's the biggest and closest option. Midway International Airport is about 45 minutes south of the city.
- Travel Insurance - Travel insurance will give you peace of mind when you visit a place that has extreme weather and high flooding potential.
Des Plaines Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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