Chief O’Shea says positive signs on the horizon in fight against violent crime
By Shane Nicholson
ROCKFORD – New statistics released this month by the FBI show the rise in violent crime in Rockford has yet to be stemmed, but police chief Dan O’Shea is confident his department is making strides in the right direction.
The FBI’s preliminary Uniform Crime Report showed a 9 percent uptick in violent crime from the first half of 2015 to the first half of 2016, a trend that many cities that share a reporting zone with Chicago saw with the Bureau’s initial set of statistics.
Chief Dan O’Shea, who started his tenure as the head of the Rockford Police Department during the 2016 reporting time, says that’s no coincidence.
“Some of our offenders out here are from Chicago, or from Milwaukee,” he told The Times. “Our street gangs have ties to those places. Our guns come from those places, or northern Indiana. So when they see a rise in violent crime, we see the effects out here.”
Like other cities that face the challenge of offenders being imported from Chicago, O’Shea says the efforts to tackle crime in Rockford cross local, state and federal department lines.
“We’re working with the ATF and the local FBI office to slow down the import of guns to our city,” he said. “I meet with the other area department heads routinely, and if we’re not meeting then we’re on the phone talking all the time. I talk with (Winnebago County Sheriff) Gary Caruana a couple times a day.”
The chief says those open lines of communication were crucial when he worked in Elgin, which, despite its reputation in northern Illinois, saw more than 90 percent fewer violent crimes in the 2016 reporting period than Rockford.
O’Shea says the measured approaches his former department applied in Elgin will ultimately pay off for Rockford.
“This didn’t happen overnight. And there isn’t a snap-your-fingers solution to crime; there never is anywhere.”
Chief O’Shea says the methods being applied here have worked elsewhere, but that the community must buy in and do their part to contribute.
“I’ve had four different community members reach out in the past week-and-a-half with information. The community, the parents, neighbors, they really need to keep stepping up and calling us.”
Saying that such efforts can make up for other parts of the community that have been left wanting, O’Shea decried the budget impasse in Springfield. The first-year chief says that while there’s minimal direct impact on the operations of Rockford’s department, the budget mess has helped create vacuums that crime can and will fill.
“The impact on (the Illinois State Police) is there, sure. Having fewer troopers out there, those guys do a lot of traffic stops, they lead to a lot of arrests on warrants.”
But the lack of funding for social agencies, who O’Shea said are one of the department’s largest allies, is where the impact is truly felt.
“Those types of groups, they have an effect on crime here and across the state,” he said. “Those agencies, they’re not our partners on paper, but they are our partners in preventing crime across the community.”
The impact those agencies have on juvenile crime in particular is especially noticeable, he said, though O’Shea added there are other steps that can be taken to reduce youth offenders.
“We’re working to get the juvenile assessment center back up and running the way it used to.” O’Shea said that he hopes such efforts, along with working with prosecutors and judges, will see the recidivism rate among juvenile offenders drop and better improve long term outcomes with gun offenders.
“The way we attack the crime problem is multi-pronged,” he said. “It’s law enforcement agencies, lawyers, judges, community partners. We all have a part to play.”
And he says it’s crucial that they all keep up their end of the bargain to see real results for Rockford in the long term.
“We’ve made great strides since I came here last April, but it’s going to take time.”