Violent crime rate dropped 34.6 percent during 10-year period

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11206697092712.jpg’, ”, ‘Richard Meyers’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11206697602748.jpg’, ”, ‘Larry Morrissey’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11206697882731.jpg’, ”, ‘Paul Logli’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11206698352688.jpg’, ”, ”);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11206698632689.jpg’, ”, ”);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11206699042627.jpg’, ”, ”);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112066998331376.jpg’, ”, ”);

‘Trust’ in police and public officials is key to crime reduction

Community leaders announce new crime-fighting initiatives

Although media coverage of Rockford’s recent spate of murder incidents galvanized local officials to promote programs designed to reduce crime at a June 23 press conference, Winnebago County’s violent crime rate dropped 34.6 percent between 1994 and 2003, from 940 offenses per 100,000 people to 615.

And Winnebago County homicides decreased from a high of 37 in 1996 to 15 in 2004, despite not having the new 1,212-bed, $160 million county jail and earnestly implemented alternatives to the jail.

The Winnebago County crime information is the latest available from a December 2004 report by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA) and University of Illinois College of Medicine in Rockford.

During the period of decreasing violent crime rates, Winnebago County had four consecutive years of reporting errors from 1998 to 2001 concerning Winnebago County’s daily jail populations. The errors appeared in the December 2004 ICJIA report despite Winnebago County Sheriff Richard Meyers’ assertion that updated jail population data was communicated to the Illinois Department of Corrections more than one year ago (watch for a future article concerning this topic).

As Rockford Police Chief Steve Pugh and Rev. Perry Bennett of Macedonia Baptist Church suggested at the meeting to announce the new crime-fighting initiatives, the real solution to decreasing Winnebago County’s crime rates is increasing citizens’ trust in police and public officials.

Pugh and Bennett implied that by increasing trust, residents may be willing to provide police valuable crime information, notify authorities of illegal and suspicious activity and form organized partnerships between citizen groups and government agencies that will address crime in their neighborhood.

Instead, community leaders at the press conference rallied around the cry for increased cooperation between government agencies, greater number of tax payer-supported crime programs, more County personnel and a bigger jail as the primary solutions to addressing crime, which is decreasing.

Crime data

During the 10-year period between 1994 and 2003, Winnebago County’s violent crime rate decreased while the County’s total population grew 7.98 percent from 261,639 residents in 1994 to 284,313 in 2003.

While violent crime rates dropped, Winnebago County’s average daily jail population soared, along with the rate of incarceration, apparently fueled primarily by a lack of jail bond-out procedures for suspects, electronic monitoring of pre-trial and post-trial detainees, and a 123 percent increase in marijuana-related arrests from 437 in 1994 to 975 in 2003.

In 1994, the average daily jail population was 360 inmates, climbed to 710 in 2003, and dropped to 454 in March 2005. As a reflection of the increasing jail populations, Winnebago County’s incarceration rate skyrocketed 84 percent from 136 inmates per 100,000 residents in 1994 to 250 in 2003.

However, the County’s incarceration rate does not include inmates sentenced to state prison from Winnebago County.

The decrease in number of inmates in jail from 710 two years ago to 454 earlier this year corresponds with goals delineated in the 2000 federal jail overcrowding lawsuit against Winnebago County. The lawsuit was repeatedly cited by elected officials in 2002 as the reason voters needed to approve a 16 percent increase in the County’s sales tax, which jumped from 6.25 to 7.25 percent in July 2003.

Since the jail tax was implemented on July 1, 2003, it has collected $45,442,760 from consumers through March 31, 2005. The bulk of the money has gone to construction-related costs for the new jail, and banks and bond dealers that are financing construction of the 588,000 square-foot facility.

Annually, only about 8 percent or $2 million from the jail tax has been allocated for jail alternatives and crime-prevention initiatives. During its first year, the jail tax generated $25,552,280 for “public-safety” purposes.

At the June 23 press conference, Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen said, “Due to jail capacity issues, it may become necessary to seek housing in other nearby facilities.” However, the number of inmates and costs involved in his proposal were not announced by Christiansen.

Generally, renting jail-bed space costs between $40-$70 per day for each inmate.

In a related matter, the federal jail overcrowding lawsuit stipulates the population of the jail “shall be no more than 400 inmates” on or before Sept. 1, 2005.

Press conference

During the June 23 press conference that announced new crime-fighting initiatives, Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey, Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli, Meyers and Christiansen informed attendees they were working to address crime problems.

The leaders’ rallying cry was increased cooperation between government agencies to reduce crime rates.

Morrissey said “short-term and long-term solutions are being addressed. …We need a bigger jail because of disorder in our community.” Logli supported Morrissey by implying the sales tax was approved by voters for the new jail and court system, which will decrease crime rates through incarceration of greater numbers of alleged offenders. However, Logli echoed Pugh and Bennett’s remarks that citizens must be involved in the process to reduce crime rates.

Pugh emphasized that cooperation between law enforcement agencies was not new. He also noted the downward trend in crime, and lack of trust in law enforcement investigators by public housing residents as an issue that needed to be addressed.

“This cooperation has been going on a long time. …This town has a crime problem, but it has been going down” Pugh said.

He added the recent killing and shootings at Blackhawk Court housing project, in which police had difficulty obtaining information from residents, exemplified a trust problem police have in sections of the community.

Bennett followed Pugh in his comments by saying confidence in law enforcement officials must increase if more cooperation by citizens is to be utilized in fighting crime.

New programs

The purpose of the press conference was to announce seven programs to fight crime, including the following:

Expanding hours of operation at the Juvenile Assessment Center;

Six additional Winnebago County Sheriff’s deputies for high crime areas;

Community policing program designed for County personnel to collect information from a “public access line” and direct the information to the appropriate person, department or authority;

County corrections team who will transport suspects from jurisdictions to the jail, which allows police officers to remain in the field;

Six additional probation officers—three for adults, and three for juveniles;

Asking Winnebago County Board members to be point person for neighborhood watch programs; and

Juvenile jail and community-based programs designed to reduce criminal behavior.

To view the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority’s December 2004 report on drugs and violent crime in Winnebago County, visit:

From the July 6-12, 2005, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!