By Shane Nicholson
Mayor Larry Morrissey and Police Chief Dan O’Shea were joined by city leaders Tuesday at a downtown press conference to address the recent uptick in violent crime across Rockford.
“The only way we can solve violent crime is with cooperation from the community,” O’Shea told reporters. “We don’t have a crystal ball.”
Rockford saw its highest number of murders last year in two decades with 27. The count for 2017 started Sunday when 34-year-old Joshua Jamerson was killed in a shooting at the Cliffbreakers complex.
“We are responding to the immediate concerns at the Cliffbreakers location,” Morrissey said. “We will also continue to partner with our social and community service agencies, and family, church, and school leaders, among others, to build a more effective, coordinated approach to combat the underlying issues that too often manifest into the violent crime we experience.”
O’Shea echoed the mayor’s statements, calling on members of the community to take an active role in reporting crime.
“Addressing crime in our city is a shared responsibility,” the chief said. “We need and are asking the public for their assistance. We simply cannot successfully prosecute cases without information that leads to arrests.”
City officials said Tuesday that they were reviewing the status of a $2.7 million loan to the owners of Cliffbreakers following Sunday’s shooting. Aldermen were reportedly in meetings Tuesday afternoon ahead of the city council meeting evaluating the status of the loan provided under a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program.
The mayor and other city leaders raised questions over whether the hotel was following the law with its booking and occupancy procedures.
“Cliffbreakers has to manage its facility properly,” Morrissey said. “Certainly when the city is going to be backing a $2.7 million loan, we have an additional responsibility to ensure that the facility is properly managed and in compliance with code. If not, we will modify accordingly.”
Eleven shootings had already been reported in the new year across Rockford by Tuesday afternoon, a number the chief said will continue to rise without more community buy-in.
O’Shea says that information from the community will be vital in helping end the rash of violent crime in the city. “Anyone with information regarding any of these incidents is encouraged to call the Rockford Police Department at 815-966-2900, or report information anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 815-963-7867.”
However, some hit back at the first-year chief, saying his decision to move to encrypted radio channels has limited persons’ access and ability to help police solve crimes.
“(The) police chief and mayor expect the citizens to help with battling crime,” said Rockford Scanner’s Rickie Traeger in a Facebook post. “How is this possible, when they encrypted?”
Traeger continued, “Citizens USED to help police when they heard and KNEW what was going on via scanner traffic. But now they are lucky to even know what is going hours, days later.”
Following a press conference last year where O’Shea announced the radio silence policy, The Times asked how the police department planned to actively engage and update the community without access to the department’s radio transmissions. RPD officials at the time said that crimes would be reported in “as close to real-time as possible” across the various outlets the department uses.
But some have noted that many crimes still go unreported by the department to the community. One downtown business owner told The Times that they’re not sure why they bother reporting some crimes anymore.
“It used to be (the crime) would show up somewhere,” they said. “People would know, they would have a description, they would be looking for a person or a car. But now, we report it and sometimes it’s like it never happened.”
Morrissey said Tuesday that all agencies who work in the Rockford area need to come together and share resources to find a solution to the city’s problems.
“The violent crime that plagues our city is unacceptable,” the outgoing mayor lamented. “I wish there was an easy answer. There isn’t.”