‘A Criminal’s Paradise: A County Without Consequences’ — part four of five
Editor’s note: The following is the fourth in a five-part series. The first part appeared in the Nov. 6-12 issue, the second part appeared in the Nov. 13-19 issue, and the third part appeared in the Dec. 25-31 issue.
Read all five parts of “A Criminal’s Paradise: A County Without Consequences”:
By Brandon Reid
Senior Assistant Editor
Once known as the “Screw Capital” for its rich industrial roots, Rockford has since become a drug capital. Since at least the late 1990s and early 2000s, drugs have been one of the city’s most thriving (although illegal) trades.
Not surprisingly, the rise of the drug capital seems to correspond with the death of Rockford’s industrial base. As industries moved to other countries following passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1992, unemployment surged, the middle class disappeared or moved to surrounding communities, and gangs moved in.
Adding insult to injury, the Rockford Public Schools’ desegregation lawsuit chased even more people away from the city in the 1990s. Some called this “white flight,” but good people of all races and ethnicities left the city during this time. And, as mentioned in the first part of this series, agreements with other communities, housing vouchers and our superior social service agencies have brought and attracted ex-cons, gang members and homeless to the city in droves.
What has been left in the city’s core is a largely undereducated and desperate populace guided by a severely struggling school district and self-interested and largely corrupt political structure amid a backdrop of abandoned and dilapidated buildings — and the largest and most lucrative industry has become the drug trade.
To date (Sept. 12 Rockford Police Department report), 630 drug/narcotic arrests and 237 drug equipment arrests have been made in 2013.
“Drug epidemic plagues area,” a report by Staff Writer Jeff Havens from the April 14-20, 2004, issue of The Rock River Times, read: “The Rockford area is in the midst of a heroin epidemic ‘that has evolved recently and rapidly,’ according to Kathleen Kane-Willis, Roosevelt University researcher at the Institute for Metropolitan Affairs.
“However, although The Rock River Times research supports Kane-Willis’ conclusion about the Rockford area’s heroin epidemic, cocaine is a much larger problem. …
“Dominic Iasparro, Rockford Police Department deputy chief, estimated that more than 75 percent of the crimes police deal with are related to drug trafficking, from violent crime to property crime. Iasparro echoed statistics by saying police have seen ‘a lot more heroin, especially in the last few months.’ However, Iasparro said cocaine, especially crack cocaine, remains the area’s ‘No. 1 drug problem.’
“Using Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA) data, The Rock River Times research indicates heroin treatment admissions to area treatment centers increased from 90 in 1994 to 435 in 2002 — an increase of 383 percent. Kane-Willis used similar data and found admissions jumped from 37 in 1992 to 429 in 2000 — an increase of 1,059 percent.
“Kane-Willis emphasized that Rockford is facing a serious problem because of the alarming rise in numbers among the very young and older users. Kane-Willis said the youngest users, age 20 and younger, represent ‘the largest and absolute numbers as well as the largest percent increases.’ In addition, users older than 40 years ‘became initiated to heroin during the 1970s, and this group had the second highest increases.
“Although increased heroin use may be a barometer for future crime rates, cocaine treatment numbers were nearly triple heroin treatment numbers in 2002 in Winnebago County. Cocaine admission numbers increased from 1,006 in 1994 to 1,268 — a 26 percent increase. Also, cocaine admission rates in the county are twice the state average.”
The most recent ICJIA Crime and Risk Factor Data for Winnebago County (for 2000 to 2009), available at www.icjia.org, show the following with regard to drugs:
• Cannabis arrests — 821 in 2000, 831 in 2009, with a peak of 1,044 in 2007;
• Controlled Substance arrests — 520 arrests in 2000, 432 in 2009, with a peak of 648 in 2006;
• Hypodermic Syringes and Needles Act arrests — Eight arrests in 2000, with a peak of 71 in 2009 (the previous high was 48 in 2008);
• Drug Paraphernalia Act arrests — 97 in 2000, 162 in 2009, with a peak of 348 in 2006;
• Total drug arrests — 1,446 in 2000, 1,496 in 2009, with a peak of 2,063 in 2006;
• Drug treatment admissions — 5,198 in 2000, 2,880 in 2009, with a peak of 5,797 in 2001;
• Illicit drug treatment admissions — 2,921 in 2000, 2,054 in 2009, with a peak of 3,795 in 2006; and
• New drug offense admissions — 216 in 2000, 212 in 2009, with a peak of 247 in 2008.
Alcoholism, addiction and mental illness — at least in some cases — should not be the equivalent of get-out-of-jail-free cards. The county, through the use of Public Safety Sales Tax funds, has been attempting to offer programs to help rehabilitate these individuals through court-ordered treatment programs, as opposed to jail time. However, particularly for repeat offenders and violent criminals, this treatment should possibly be administered while these individuals are behind bars serving time for their chosen crimes, not while they are out on the street.
As discussed at the Nov. 7 Winnebago County Public Safety Summit, one in six inmates in the Winnebago County Jail suffers from a mental illness or substance abuse problem. While medication and counseling keeps the public safe while the offenders are in jail, most inmates cease treatment after they’re released.
Additionally, many treatment programs have been hurt by a slumping economy and cuts in state and federal funding. Rockford’s Singer Mental Health Center, for example, was closed, and many drug and alcohol treatment programs have had to cut back on the number of individuals they serve because of a cut in funding from both the state and federal levels.
Ultimately, however, the easiest and cheapest way to break the cycle of crime and addiction is for it to never begin. This is why more needs to be done in the home, in the schools and in the community to keep kids off drugs. The problem is, we are now dealing with second- and third-generation criminals, drug dealers and addicts.
One of the easiest ways to keep kids off drugs is to make drugs less accessible. Law enforcement agencies need to become more proactive and less reactive in getting drugs and drug dealers off the streets and out of our schools. And the state’s attorney needs to work hard to ensure those who are caught dealing drugs and participating in gang activity face stiff penalties and are not back out on the streets within months after they begin a prison sentence (see “Man on parole on drug charges arrested at Hancock Street apartment for possession with intent to deliver cocaine, heroin” from part two of this series).
Furthermore, the shipping of ex-cons, gang members and others with substance abuse problems to the Rockford area needs to stop. This community needs to focus more on welcoming educated and capable people to the community as opposed to serving as a social service mecca. As Frank Schier mentioned in his Nov. 27-Dec. 3, 2013, editorial, “Rockford Transformers and thankfulness”: “I’m all for taking care of our own challenged population, including the mentally ill. They are our neighbors, and many times we know their families. We must take care of our own, and a FEW strangers. …”
From the Jan. 1-6, 2014, issue