‘A Criminal’s Paradise: A County Without Consequences’ — part five of five
Editor’s note: The following is the fifth in a five-part series on crime in the Rockford area. The first part appeared in the Nov. 6-12, 2013, issue, the second part appeared in the Nov. 13-19, 2013, issue, the third part appeared in the Dec. 25-31, 2013, issue, and the fourth part appeared in the Jan. 1-7, 2014, issue.
Read all five parts of “A Criminal’s Paradise: A County Without Consequences”:
Editorial: Rockford’s violent crime rate virtually unchanged in 2013 — part 1 of 5
Editorial: Repeat offenders an area of increasing concern — part 2 of 5
Editorial: Teens involved in serious crimes — part 3 of 5
Editorial: Rockford: From ‘Screw Capital’ to drug capital — part 4 of 5
Editorial: ‘Come and knock on our door’: Time for Good Ol’ Boys Club to wake up — part 5 of 5
By Brandon Reid
Senior Assistant Editor
A personal experience
Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, around 10:30 p.m., a man came knocking on my front door. I opened the door and found a man whom I had never seen before. He was talking gibberish, seemed to be on something and seemed to want inside my house. I told him he had the wrong house, and he then made a move to enter my home. I slammed the door shut on him and locked it.
The man then proceeded to knock some more on my door, trying to turn the door knob, until he finally left the door and then came to my front windows and tried to open them. I told him to go away and notified him that I would be calling the police. He then made a move toward the side of the house.
At this point, I realized I was not in possession of my cell phone and was home alone with my 6-month-old and 2-year-old. Next, he started knocking on my back door, turning the door knob, looking in the windows and trying to open the windows. I quickly grabbed my sleeping children, sneaked out the front door, and went to my neighbor’s house to use their phone.
While I was on the phone at my neighbor’s house with the 911 Call Center, my neighbor went to the back porch of my house to see if the man was still there. The man was still there, and he tried to punch my neighbor. My neighbor was able to avoid the punch, and he pinned the man down on my back porch. My neighbor said the man was quite strong and that he was attempting to choke him.
The police arrived, and the man immediately became confrontational with them. I later learned the police had difficulty with this individual all the way down to the police station.
I also learned from the police that they had dealt with this individual earlier in the evening, and that he was likely intoxicated and/or mentally ill. For all of his actions, the man was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting/obstructing a peace officer. He was held for about a week, before posting $150 bond. He has since missed a court date and is wanted on a warrant for failure to appear in court.
I later learned this man had just moved to the area and had attempted the same thing in another state a couple of years ago. In that state, he was charged with felony first-degree burglary. The homeowner who wrestled with him in this incident said he was “fighting for his life and the life of his fiancée and daughter.”
Police in that incident said the man was likely intoxicated.
In January 2013, the man was also charged in another state after allegedly biting another man’s hand in a bar after that man refused to buy him a drink. This man also had previous DUI charges.
Some ideas to make Rockford safer
Following are some ideas that could help make Rockford a safer place:
• As discussed by Editor and Publisher Frank Schier in his Nov. 27-Dec. 3, 2013, “Editorial: Rockford Transformers and thankfulness,” Rockford needs to do whatever is possible to stop being the dumping ground for the mentally ill, homeless, addicts, gang members, criminals and ex-cons;
• Continued efforts by Rockford City Council to tear down condemned properties;
• Harsher sentencing for all criminals, particularly violent criminals and repeat offenders;
• Harsher punishment for juveniles;
• Night court to move cases through the system more quickly and get criminals behind bars more quickly;
• Higher bonds to keep dangerous people off the streets longer;
• Changing Illinois law, which prohibits bail bondsmen and bounty hunters;
• Jail and prison time for certain alcoholics, addicts and mentally ill, as opposed to probation and residential treatment programs;
• Stronger efforts to take hard drugs (crack/cocaine, heroin, etc.) off the streets;
• Holding pain management and mental health doctors — and others who prescribe opiates, amphetamines and other narcotics — accountable for administering and prescribing these drugs in an ethical manner;
• More oversight of certain medications obtained using a state medical card, as these drugs are regularly resold on the street for profit or traded for other prescription drugs;
• Increased funding for drug treatment programs, so they can be more effective and reach more people;
• More and greater attempts to prevent drug and alcohol use and abuse among youth;
• Decriminalization of marijuana, so law enforcement can focus more on taking hard, addictive and destructive drugs off the streets;
• Holding those who have not paid their fines accountable with jail time;
• Continued efforts by area agencies to increase GED attainment in the Rockford area;
• A more concerted effort from parents/guardians, police, schools, churches and other community organizations to break the cycle of crime, drugs and gang activity among youth; and
• Significantly increasing the police force and putting more police on the streets at the same time (Rockford police are working toward this with what they call “surge patrols,” or an “all-officers-on-deck” approach in targeted areas. Also worth noting is the Dec. 19 unveiling of the Winnebago County Violent Crime Task Force, which is a new crime-fighting unit composed of area law enforcement agencies).
Following is what residents can do (much of this is common sense, although it seems many of us become complacent in these areas at times):
• Report crime or suspicious activity to police when you see it;
• Keep non-emergency law enforcement phone numbers accessible — (815) 966-2900 inside the city and (815) 282-2600 outside the city in Winnebago County;
• Be informed — tune in to local news outlets; follow Rockford crime online at crimemapping.com, at rockfordil.gov/police.aspx and at wcsp-il.org; and keep track of wanted fugitives at rockfordcrimestoppers.com and Illinois sex offenders at http://www.isp.state.il.us/sor/;
• If you know someone with a drug or alcohol problem, do whatever is necessary to ensure they obtain the proper treatment and attend the proper meetings (they likely aren’t going to do it on their own, unless they’ve hit rock bottom, which each addict/alcoholic has a different definition of);
• Be a positive role model for a child, whether it is your own child or someone else’s;
• Consider keeping your medication in a secure place;
• Arm yourself … keep a baseball bat handy, get some pepper spray, or obtain your FOID card and concealed carry permit and the corresponding training;
• Establish good relationships with your neighbors and people in your neighborhood;
• Start a neighborhood watch group;
• Be observant;
• Keep areas around your home well-lit at night;
• Keep all doors (including screen doors) and windows — on both vehicles and residences — locked at all times;
• Do not open the door for someone you do not know when you are not expecting a visitor, particularly at night;
• Avoid putting yourself in bad situations (going to known bad areas, walking at night alone, carrying too much cash, etc.); and
• Keep all phones well charged and accessible in the event of an emergency.
Good Ol’ Boys Club needs to wake up
Because of weak bonds, failed prosecutions, poor sentencing, delayed court cases and an overall overburdened and dysfunctional criminal justice system, criminals in Winnebago County have learned there are often no serious consequences for their actions. And yet, the area continues to be a mecca of social service agencies, which brings even more problems to our streets. Rockford and Winnebago County must do whatever it takes to become tougher on crime, or this city and county will have no chance of recovering from their horrendous and embarrassing crime rates.
As long as crime continues to plague the Rockford area, property values will continue to plummet, prospective employers will continue to seek greener pastures elsewhere, and the public school system — where good kids get lost in a system more focused on preventing gang activity and riots than on educating — will continue to suffer.
It’s time for Rockford’s out-of-touch elite, the Good Ol’ Boys Club that rules this town, to wake up — because it won’t be long before these criminals come knocking on their doors.
Specifically, Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) needs to show leadership and diplomacy in repairing the fractured relationship between the city, Police Chief Chet Epperson and the rank-and-file police. The situation has gotten ugly, and it is completely unacceptable for criminals to be more organized than our police force.
Ultimately, the buck stops with the mayor’s office. Voters decided to give the mayor four more years in office, despite his history of disputes with both police and fire unions. It’s time for the mayor to take leadership on this issue — stop playing hardball, and find a way to bring all sides to the table and get everyone on the same page. That is the kind of leadership voters expected when they gave him four more years, it’s the kind of leadership citizens deserve, and it’s the kind of leadership that is required to help raise this city back from the ashes.
From the Jan. 8-14, 2014, issue