‘A Criminal’s Paradise: A County Without Consequences’ — part one of five
Read all five parts of “A Criminal’s Paradise: A County Without Consequences”:
By Brandon Reid
Senior Assistant Editor
No one rolls out the red carpet for criminals like the City of Rockford and Winnebago County.
The Rockford area welcomes criminals, addicts, alcoholics, drug dealers, gang members, the mentally ill and the homeless with open arms — literally.
Many troubled individuals seek the Rockford area’s green pastures of abundant social service agencies and weak criminal consequences, while agreements with other federal, state and local entities help ship ex-cons and displaced or homeless people to Rockford and the county. And let’s not forget Rockford’s thriving drug trade, which has likely become the No. 1 industry in the area.
When these factors are coupled with a high unemployment rate and low education rate (15,000 adults have less than a ninth-grade education and 34,000 adults do not have a high school diploma), it’s no wonder the Rockford area — which boasts one of the highest crime rates in the country — has become a criminal’s paradise.
Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen (R) should be commended for his Public Safety Summit series, which aims to bring together criminal justice leaders, law enforcement professionals, elected officials and community leaders to find solutions to the area’s crime problem. The next in the series, “Behavioral Health and the Criminal Justice System: Issues and Solutions,” will be from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 7, at University of Illinois School of Medicine at Rockford, 1601 Parkview Ave.
The first in the series, held in January, focused on crime prevention. That summit resulted in an 11-point action plan that so far has resulted in more patrols on the street, a new Knock Out Crime website (http://wincoil.us/knockoutcrime), a “Stop-Walk-Knock-Talk” program that has resulted in more than 1,500 visits by patrol officers to residents in their neighborhoods, and a Text-a-Tip program that has produced more than 800 tips to the law enforcement community.
Crime by the numbers
In 2011, the website 24/7 Wall Street ranked Rockford the ninth most dangerous city in the United States. The website wrote: “Rockford has unusually high violent crime rates for a city of its size. Most notably, the city has the fourth-highest rate of aggravated assault in the country, with 10.5 cases for every 1,000 citizens in 2010. During the same period, 20 murders occurred, almost double the number in 2000. Quoted by the Rockford Register Star in 2007, Winnebago County Sheriff Dick Meyers said that he believed the city’s ‘location worked against [it,]’ as Rockford receives traffic from the drug markets in Madison, Chicago and Milwaukee, resulting in heightened rates of violence.”
A look at current crime statistics for 2013 shows improvement in some areas. According to the Rockford Police Department, violent crime is virtually unchanged, with 1,559 violent crimes occurring to date in 2013 (as of the most recent “Year to Date” report from Sept. 12), compared with 1,558 through the same period in 2012. Property crimes, however, are down 6 percent, from 5,215 in 2012 to 4,915 for the same period in 2013. The city has seen an 88 percent increase in murders, up from eight in 2012 to 15 in 2013.
Notable areas of increase in crime are aggravated assault, up 6 percent from 1,049 in 2012 to 1,108 in 2013; shoplifting, up 8 percent from 768 in 2012 to 830 in 2013; theft of motor vehicle parts or accessories, up 34 percent from 145 in 2012 to 194 in 2013; credit card/Automatic Teller Machine fraud, up 45 percent from 136 in 2012 to 197 in 2013; stolen property offenses, up 30 percent from 43 in 2012 to 56 in 2013; pornography/obscene material, up 125 percent from four in 2012 to nine in 2013; and assisting or promoting prostitution, up 156 percent from nine in 2012 to 23 in 2013.
Notable areas of decrease in crime include rape, down 8 percent from 95 in 2012 to 87 in 2013; robbery, down 21 percent from 346 in 2012 to 273 in 2013; simple assault, down 11 percent from 2,687 in 2012 to 2,391 in 2013; arson, down 32 percent from 41 in 2012 to 28 in 2013; burglary/breaking and entering, down 5 percent from 1,423 in 2012 to 1,347 in 2013; theft from motor vehicle, down 31 percent from 782 in 2012 to 536 in 2013; impersonation, down 39 percent from 85 in 2012 to 52 in 2013; destruction/damage/vandalism of property, down 14 percent from 3,239 in 2012 to 2,801 in 2013; prostitution, down 8 percent from 37 in 2012 to 34 in 2013; and weapon law offenses, down 6 percent from 435 in 2012 to 410 in 2013.
While improvement has been made in some areas in 2013, the overall crime picture for the Rockford area remains quite bleak.
In 2012, Rockford residents had a 1 in 72 chance of being the victim of a violent crime, with a violent crime rate of 13.85 per 1,000 residents. For comparison, the same rate for Illinois was 4.35 per 1,000 residents, while the national median was 3.9 per 1,000 residents.
A May 4 report by national website Neighborhood Scout ranked Rockford’s Kishwaukee Street/Grove Street neighborhood as the 14th most dangerous neighborhood in the country. The Neighborhood Scout study showed people have a 1 in 13 chance in one year of being the victim of a violent crime in the Kishwaukee/Grove neighborhood, where the violent crime rate is 77.6 per 1,000 residents.
Rockford’s property crime rate per 1,000 residents was 47.08 in 2012, compared with an Illinois rate of 26.81 and a national median of 29.1. Rockford residents had a 1 in 21 chance of being the victim of a property crime in 2012.
In crimes per square mile, Rockford’s rate stood at 150, compared with 32 for Illinois and a national median of 39.6.
According to Neighborhood Scout, Rockford — with a ranking of 5 out of 100 (100 being the safest) — was safer than only 5 percent of cities in the United States.
Areas of increasing concern, based on recent headlines, appear to be repeat offenders, serious crimes committed by teens and a thriving drug trade. Examples of these and information about Rockford’s thriving drug trade will be the focus of future parts of this series.
From the Nov. 6-12, 2013, issue