Important crime topics not discussed at meeting

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11236948079179.jpg’, ”, ‘Chuck Jefferson’);

Winnebago County’s incarceration rate tops former Soviet Union; organized crime not addressed

About 25 representatives from several government and non-government agencies met Aug. 4 in a 90-minute roundtable discussion about crime in the Rockford area. While the group, headed by State Rep. Chuck Jefferson (D-67), addressed issues relating to property, drug, sex and violent crimes, conspicuous by its absence was the lack of discussion about white-collar and organized crime.

Even though outgoing Rockford Police Chief Steve Pugh and the Rev. Perry Bennett of Macedonia Baptist Church said June 23 that “trust” in police and public officials was key to crime reduction, the group discussed conditions relating to blue-collar crime, such as installation of exterior video cameras throughout the city, probable cause for police searches of vehicles, concerns about racial profiling, sensitivity training for police, improved programs for former inmates on parole, and convicted sex offenders in the community and public housing.

The group, called the Rockford Crime Advisory Committee, consisted of representatives from the Rockford Police Department, Illinois State Police, Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department, Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC), Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s office, Rockford Housing Authority, Illinois Department of Employment Security, Winnebago County Board, Illinois Attorney General’s office, Cease Fire and the Violence Prevention Collaborative.

Also in attendance were Rockford attorney Tony Renteria and Jean Flores of Rockford.

Jefferson said the purpose of the meeting was to solicit ideas for legislation that he could introduce to address crime problems. Jefferson also wants the committee to meet on a quarterly basis to discuss recent developments, and how to lower crime rates.

During the meeting, the committee focused on recent shootings in public housing units, and issues relating to drug trafficking on Rockford’s west side.

Organized crime

Asked whether the committee would discuss white-collar and organized crime at their next meeting, given that trust in public officials is key to crime reduction, James Burns, legislative aide to Jefferson responded: “That’s a very, very good point.”

According to Wayne Johnson, former chief investigator for the Chicago Crime Commission, the most perilous aspect of organized crime is its potential to corrupt the legislative and judicial process through campaign contributions, and support of judges and key public officials.

Johnson fears that with focus on blue-collar crime, gangs and homeland security, “nobody” is monitoring organized crime members and associates.

His concerns appear to be supported by recent revelations exposed by The Rock River Times that Chicago Mafia associate Nick Boscariono purchased three properties in Winnebago County since 2004; indictment in April of former Rockford resident and alleged Mob hit man Frank G. Saladino; destruction of Mob intelligence filesin the mid-1980s by unknown Rockford Police officials; leasing of office space by the former Illinois Attorney General’s office from a business group that in 1999 listed an alleged Mafia soldier as one of its members; and imprisonment in January 2005 of Frank Saladino’s cousin, Joseph W. Saladino, on federal weapons charges.

Joe Saladino was found in February 1997 with a machine gun, butcher knife, tree-trimming saw, pipe wrench, billy club, two bolt cutters, two face masks, two handguns, and two books on how to make gun silencers in the trunk of his car.

Causes of crime

Renteria attributed the “main causes” of crime to drugs and jobs. He claimed many offenders resort to crime because of an inability to obtain employment that pays liveable wages.

However, Dr. Michael Hazlett, professor of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice at Western Illinois University, said crime is a complex issue, but may be reduced to two components.

The first component, Hazlett said, is to have “people in the right frame of mind that are thinking about committing a crime, but it’s usually not planned.” The second component is “you have to have targets, and a low chance of getting caught.”

Targets would include people, businesses and property. “Adding more police doesn’t necessarily solve the problem, either, because it just disperses the crime to where the police have less of a presence,” Hazlett said.

If the goal is to lower the crime rate, Hazlett said, money and efforts would be more wisely spent on increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system, housing, transportation, social services, neighborhood watch groups and community policing.

Instead, County leaders have spent nearly all of the $50 million plus in public-safety sales tax money on financing and constructing a new 1,212-bed jail, which is more than three times the capacity of the existing County jail.

Hazlett predicted in 2002 that a larger new jail will likely exacerbate crime problems because inmates learn new criminal techniques in jail and prison, and those individuals are eventually released back into the community, where they can employ their new skills.

Although committee members did not discuss white-collar and organized crime, Jefferson did voice concerns about the size of the new jail and its probable impact on police tactics. He said the black community is fearful that after the new criminal-justice facility is built, police may become “heavy handed to fill the jail.”

However, the committee members did not directly address the County’s skyrocketing incarceration rate.

Parolees and incarceration rate

Renteria urged DOC officials to more closely monitor parolees.

Kurt Friednauer, spokesman for the DOC, responded to Renteria by explaining parole officers in Winnebago County are “overloaded” with cases. However, he said Gov. Rod Blagojevich will implement new “re-entry initiatives” for those on parole. Friednauer estimated that about 1,000 former state prison inmates are currently on parole in Winnebago County.

After hearing about the number of parolees in the County, Rockford Police Sgt. Michael Booker asserted there is a rumor in the community that DOC officials are sending former inmates to Rockford because of the quality and number of available social services.

Friednauer responded by saying that rumor is not supported by data. He said about 85 percent of inmates released from prison to Winnebago County committed the crime that sent them to prison in Winnebago County. In addition to the 1,050 parolees currently in the County, Friednauer estimated another 1,400 inmates are now in state prison from Winnebago County.

The 1,400 inmates in state prison from Winnebago County combined with the 550 prisoners currently in the County jail, means Winnebago County has an incarceration rate of 685 inmates per 100,000 residents.

Winnebago County’s incarceration rate of 685 surpasses Cold War-era Soviet Union’s rate of 681, and likely means after the new 1,212-bed jail is constructed, the County will probably exceed apartheid-era South Africa’s incarceration rate of 750 inmates for every 100,000 citizens.

If the current number of inmates in state prison from Winnebago County remains the same, the County’s total population grows to 286,000 residents, and the new jail is filled to capacity in 2007, Winnebago County’s incarceration rate will balloon to 913 inmates for every 100,000 citizens.

Subjects covered

Although many topics were discussed, Jefferson’s goal to create a coordinated effort to reduce crime, and introduce legislation that would assist that effort is in its infancy. No one expressed to Jefferson the need for specific legislation.

Deputy Chief Chet Epperson of the Rockford Police Department wanted more exterior video cameras and police officers to monitor those cameras. Jefferson said such cameras may be installed in public places throughout the city, and have deterred crime in areas where they are used in Chicago.

Lewis Jordan, director of the Rockford Housing Authority, said two cameras were placed on an experimental bas

is at Jane Addams housing project near the intersection of College and Third avenues. The cameras were erected after Memorial Day and were recently taken down, according to Jordan.

Winnebago County Board member Tuffy Quiñonez (D-11) said he was concerned about racial profiling and traffic stops that could lead to harassment of minorities by police officials. Master Sgt. Chuck Carter of the Illinois State Police said officers need a “probable cause” to pull motorists over and search the vehicle.

Renteria added that some of his Hispanic clients have difficulty communicating with police due to language differences, which has led to what he implied were questionable arrests and incarcerations. He urged hiring more Spanish-speaking police officers.

The Rev. Ralph Hawthorne of Cease Fire said Rockford’s west side is in the grip of “a serious drug problem.” However, he said there are no treatment centers in the areas they are needed.

Jefferson closed the meeting by saying he supported County Board members’ efforts to spearhead neighborhood watch programs. He also encouraged sensitivity training for police officers.

From the Aug. 10-16, 2005, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!