What we do — and don’t — know about the gun-related arrests at Naperville’s Topgolf

For months now, gun-related arrests in the parking lot of Topgolf in Naperville have mounted, each the result of a similar chain of events.

Police, typically on a foot patrol, spot a firearm — in plain view, authorities say — inside a vehicle parked outside the 3211 Odyssey Court business. Officers set up surveillance, wait for the owner to return and, if that firearm is illegally possessed, make an arrest.

The familiar bust has happened again and again. But what is known about the arrests beyond their frequency?

Law enforcement — both active and retired — Topgolf representatives and police records help answer some questions.

What is Topgolf?

Marketed as a sports entertainment complex, Topgolf offers the modern, high-tech twist on the golfing experience. Using microchipped golf balls, it allows players to track the metrics of their shots – accuracy, speed, distance, angle — in real-time using a variety of games and virtual courses.

Topgolf also has a full restaurant and bar. Prices to play vary by site, day and time but can range from $37 to $63 an hour. There are more than 80 Topgolf locations across the United States as well as several international sites.

How many Topgolf locations are there in Illinois?

There are two: Naperville and Schaumburg.

How long has Topgolf been in Naperville?

The 65,000-square-foot Topgolf facility at the northwest corner of Route 59 and Interstate 88 opened in September 2015.

Why has Naperville’s Topgolf been receiving so much public attention?

Since last year, more than two dozen people have been arrested on weapons charges after police have seen guns inside their vehicles in the facility’s parking lot.

September 2023 is when the situation started gaining interest. Authorities released information on two similar gun-related arrests, and more followed in the weeks and months after that.

How many arrests have there been?

Going back to Aug. 10, 2023, 17 people have been arrested for gun-related charges in the business’ parking lot, according to Naperville police spokeswoman Kelley Munch, arrest records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act and DuPage County court records.

What led to the arrests?

Police say the firearms have been seen in “plain view” by officers doing foot patrols of the venue’s parking lot.

In some cases, that has meant a firearm was protruding from the side of a parked vehicle, police said. In at least one instance, a gun was seen inside the netting pocket on the back of a vehicle’s passenger seat.

“If I’m doing security and patrolling the parking lot, and I walked by a car and I see that a gun is … on a seat, on the floorboard, in a pocket — that’s in plain view,” said Richard Wistocki, a retired detective who spent 28 years with the Naperville Police Department. “If we can see the butt of a gun, that’s plain view.”

Wistocki, now a consultant and reserve deputy for the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office in Tennessee, added, “If they patrol the parking lots and see guns laying out, they’re not going to ignore it.”

“When we see a gun in plain view,” he said, “we want to make sure a responsible party has the (legal right) to carry.”

What grants someone the right to carry a gun in Illinois?

In order to lawfully purchase and carry a gun in Illinois, two different requirements need to be satisfied, according to DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin.

First, to purchase any kind of firearm or ammunition, they would need a Firearm Owner Identification (FOID) Card issued by the state, Berlin said. The kinds of guns someone can purchase is also subject to the state’s assault weapon ban.

To be eligible for an FOID card, a person must be at least 21 years old or have a parent or guardian sponsor who is eligible for a card, the Illinois State Police website says. There are a slew of disqualifying factors, including felony convictions, narcotic addiction and intellectual disability.

An FOID card, Berlin said, is for someone looking to own a gun and keep it at their home or business. To carry a firearm concealed on their person or in their car, someone would also need a Concealed Carry License (CCL).

As long as a person obtains both licenses, they’d be allowed to conceal carry — unless they’re in a prohibited area. Those include schools, state property and public transportation. Private businesses can also prohibit the carrying of guns inside their establishments if they post a sign.

Topgolf, for example, has such a sign. That means that anyone who has a firearm with them cannot bring it inside and must leave it in their vehicle in a place that’s concealed from view. The person can be arrested if police discover they do not have an FOID and a CCL for the weapon, Berlin said.

“The gun has to be … in a case or in a locked container, out of plain view within the vehicle,” he said. “Or they can put it in the trunk.”

If I’m licensed, can police arrest me just for leaving a weapon inside a car in plain view?

Even if someone has the proper licenses, leaving a firearm inside their vehicle in plain view is a violation of the Firearm Concealed Carry Act, which is a Class B misdemeanor, Berlin said. However, such a violation would likely “result in a citation, where they would be given a court date” not a full-blown arrest, he said.

When someone isn’t properly licensed or legally allowed to possess a firearm or their firearm is modified in some way, that’s when officers take enforcement action.

What have alleged offenders arrested at Topgolf been charged with?

There have been a range of weapons charges, including aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, armed violence, armed habitual criminal and unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon.

Who is being arrested?

The alleged offenders in the Topgolf cases have ranged in age from 19 to 41 at the time of their arrest, according to records. None of the 17 suspects have been local residents, records show.

Alleged offenders, according to information on arrest logs and police reports, have addresses in Chicago, Hazel Crest, Maywood, Blue Island, Calumet City, Plainfield as well as Hammond and Griffith in Indiana, and Jackson, Tennessee.

Have any of the arrests resulted in convictions?

All 17 reported cases over the past nine months are still in court, according to DuPage County Circuit Court records.

Why Topgolf?

Authorities have repeatedly stated it is difficult to speculate as to why people are bringing their firearms to Naperville’s Topgolf and leaving them in their cars.

At a Naperville City Council meeting in mid-April, Naperville Police Chief Jason Arres said the department increased its patrols at the Topgolf lot after a traffic stop in the area led to a firearm being recovered. Police wanted “to see if (was) a single incident or a trend,” he said. Unfortunately, he said, officers have found “quite a few guns.”

In an interview, Arres added that, “It’s hard for me to speculate why.” Topgolf’s proximity to Route 59 and Interstate 88 might make the venue “an attractive spot to hang out at,” he said.

“The location is … accessible to people from communities all over the area,” he said.

Naperville police Sgt. Michael McLean, who has firsthand experience with the ongoing Topgolf arrests, added, “I think if we knew the why, we’d be able to tackle it a little bit easier.”

McLean heads Naperville’s strategic unit response unit, a problem-oriented group of five officers that has taken the lead on policing activity at the Topolf lot.

“I’m not sure anybody knows exactly,” he said. “ I think that’s going to be up to the individual bringing it unfortunately. So I wouldn’t want to speculate as to why people are doing what they’re doing.”

Are alleged offenders visiting Topgolf?

To the best of their knowledge, authorities say the alleged offenders are returning to their cars after spending time at Topgolf.

“I don’t know that they’re there for other reasons that I’ve observed,” McLean said.

Police also have emphasized that there have been no issues inside the Naperville Topgolf venue.

Are there any other businesses in Naperville seeing similar activity?

In December, three men were arrested on charges that they had multiple loaded machine guns and drugs inside their car while it was parked at the Naperville Bowlero, 1515 Aurora Ave.

Over the past year, there have been a total of five gun-related arrests at the Bowlero lot, per arrest records. The most recent was in March.

Police proactively patrol “any of our facilities that are going to draw a lot of people,” McLean said. For example, he noted that officers conduct regular checks in downtown Naperville, especially the parking decks during the summer.

How often is Naperville’s Topgolf patrolled?

The city’s strategic response unit conducts foot patrols at the facility “at least a couple times a week,” McLean said.

Is this happening at the Schaumburg Topgolf?

The Schaumburg Police Department has not had similar activity, according to Schaumburg police Cmdr. Christy Lindhurst.

“We have only had (three) calls for service at (the Schaumburg Topgolf) location since January of this year,” she said. “None of those calls for service were gun or drug related.”

Lindhurst added that beat officers routinely patrol the facility’s parking lot to “ensure safety as they do many businesses in our village.”

Has Topgolf done anything to combat the issue?

The facility has enhanced security measures.

McLean said police have met with Topgolf “probably three or four times” and that they are taking steps “to try and make things safer out there.”

In a statement to the Naperville Sun, a Topgolf representative wrote: “The safety of our players and playmakers has always been and will continue to be our number one priority.

“The arrests that have occurred in our parking lot are unrelated to Topgolf,” they said, “and no incidents related to these efforts have occurred within our venue. We remain extremely grateful for the Naperville Police Department and their ongoing efforts to keep our community safe.”