Crime misinformation dispensed at meeting

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112187959810405.jpg’, ”, ‘Tim Simms’);

County leaders are erroneously inflating our crime rate.

Despite crime data to the contrary, the perception that crime and violent offenses in Winnebago County are on the increase was wrongfully perpetuated again last week. This time the offender was Republican leader and Winnebago County Board member W. Timothy Simms (R-14) at the July 14 meeting of the Winnebago County Board.

During his Finance Committee presentation concerning public safety budget amendments for use of the jail tax, Simms twice referred to increasing crime rates in the County as the reason more spending was necessary for crime initiatives.

During his second reference to perceived increasing crime rates, Simms falsely stated: “Crime statistics in Winnebago County are up.”

When asked where Simms obtained data to support his claim, Simms could not cite any specific report or data. Simms added that to the best of his memory, he obtained his information from Winnebago County Sheriff Richard Meyers.

After being confronted with crime facts that indicate crime has been decreasing, Simms clarified his position by saying he likely obtained his information from the County Board Public Safety Committee, which Simms claimed received its information from Meyers.

Meyers said July 19 that the crime rate in unincorporated areas of the County “is down 6 percent” for the period between January through May of this year.

He added that he didn’t know what the data were for the City of Rockford.

Rockford Police Chief Steven Pugh said at a June 23 press conference: “This town has a crime problem, but it has been going down.”

The latest information available from the Illinois State Police show Rockford’s total crime index dropped 2.2 percent from 13,748 in 2002 to 13,450 in 2003. The crime rate per 100,00 residents also decreased 2.7 percent from9,155 to 8,903 in 2003.

The County’s total crime index and crime rate per 100,000 residents were both down between 2002 and 2003.

The total crime index dropped 3.7 percent from 19,957 in 2002 to 19,218 in 2003, and the crime rate per 100,000 residents dropped 4.4 percent from7,113 in 2002 to 6,800 in 2003, despite not earnestly implementing jail alternatives, electronic monitoring, bonding reforms or an immensely larger new jail.

In fact, before new procedures for reporting crime data were implemented, Winnebago County’s crime index offense rate decreased 20.3 percent from 8,307 in 1993 to 6,619 in 2001. And according to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, the violent crime rate decreased 34.6 percent from 940 offenses per 100,000 people in 1994 to 615 in 2003.

Simms reacted to the data by arguing there is a perception in the community that crime is increasing. However, when asked whether he was fueling the myth that crime is increasing, Simms repeated his assertion that he was merely repeating information he received from the Public Safety Committee.

John Sweeney, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said: “I don’t know what document Tim is talking about.” Sweeney, who has been on the Public Safety Committee for about three years, added that he did not recall receiving any long-term crime data from Meyers. He also said the only data he can remember receiving from Meyers was for a specific one-week period.

During the Fall 2002 campaign for voters to approve the jail tax, Meyers and Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli repeatedly cited Winnebago County’s crime rate as the reason the County sales tax needed to increase to pay for construction of a bigger new jail. Voters trusted Logli and Meyers, approved the sales tax hike in November 2002, and since then, the jail tax has collected at least $50 million from consumers.

Most of the jail tax money has been spent to pay for construction and financing of the imminent 1,212-bed, $160 million jail. The current main jail has a capacity of 394 inmates.

Meyers and Logli’s mantra during the 2002 campaign was Winnebago County’s crime rate was the highest in the state, and the primary solution to alleged jail overcrowding and high crime rates was to construct the new jail.

However, as the Oct. 23-29, 2002, article “The criminal justice-industrial complex” showed, Winnebago County’s crime rate wasn’t much different than Peoria County during 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2001. The largest difference in crime rates during those years was 10 percent in 2000 when Peoria County had a higher crime rate at 7,066 to Winnebago County’s 6,352.

Like Simms, State Rep. Chuck Jefferson (D-67), also asserted in a recent press release that area crime was increasing.

From the July 20-26, 2005, issue

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