Police chief, state’s attorney drawing hard line with violent offenders

By Jim Hagerty

ROCKFORD – Rockford is changing and will no longer tolerate violent crime.

That’s the hard-lined message local-law enforcement officials are sending as Rockford is still Illinois’ most dangerous city. And Rockford Police Chief Dan O’Shea and Winnebago County State’s Attorney Joe Bruscato are not mincing those words. If you commit violent crime in Rockford, expect to be punished.

“If you are a person who has a gun or has a thought of taking up a gun against the citizens of this community to cause harm and potentially death to anyone, these crimes will be investigated, they will be prosecuted,” Bruscato said last week as he announced 16 counts of murder against a Chicago man in recent fatal Rockford shooting. “I am asking now that the citizens recognize that this community will not tolerate the ongoing violence and the ongoing excessive use of guns.”

O’Shea, whose department dealt with four homicides in three days last week, said more crimes are being solved, which means his officers, through partnerships with other agencies, is ridding the city of violent offenders. Police are arresting more people for violent offenses, something he credits to a willingness by citizens to come forward with information about crimes that would otherwise go unsolved, or in some cases, even unreported.

“A lot of that comes from community involvement, engagement and people stepping up,” O’Shea said. “I implore community members to continue doing so, to reach out to their friends and family and keep giving us information.”

Getting to where O’Shea and Bruscato say the city needs to be so its residents feel safe is a slow-moving process. Violent crime saw a 5-percent decrease in 2017, but Rockford still carries a violent stigma. There are 166 violent crimes per 10,000 people in the Forest City, which presents a more than sizable problem for area law enforcement, not just the nearly 300 officers who work under O’Shea. That is why he says he’s making strong allies.

“We have all the justice departments working together toward a safer Rockford,” the chief said. “We have a long way to go, but we will keep charging and prosecuting as many people as we can. I applaud everyone’s hard work.”

Bruscato said significant progress has been made in recent months in terms of criminal indictments. They indicate change is happening. But a direct attack on the root causes of the crime epidemic must be property launched. And although there are many factors behind certain offenses, Bruscato said one seems to have a particularly pernicious influence.

“Most recently, our concerns have turned to the domestic violence arena,” he said. “And verses some of the other cases that we charge that might be gang-related or drug-related, that is an area where we need to make more progress.”

Bruscato now has another partner with city government to face Rockford’s domestic violence problem head on. The Office of Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Prevention is the outcropping of a study that showed that 5,240 reported incidents of domestic violence were filed in 2016 and nearly 5,000 a year earlier. There were 2,826 orders of protection filed in Winnebago County in 2016 and almost that many in 2017. But that’s not all. Domestic violence accounts for 25 percent of Rockford’s violent crime.

Such is the case of 22-year-old Danielle Son and 25-year-old Sergio Quiroz. They were found dead last Thursday in what is believed to be a domestic violence-related double homicide.

Son’s husband, 26-year-old Hand Son, had recently been charged with domestic violence. Investigators believe he kidnapped his wife and Quiroz and killed them sometime between Feb. 19 and Feb. 22. Hand Son died Thursday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after a police chase on Rockford’s southwest side. Danielle Son filed for divorce on Feb. 16 and was romantically involved with Quiroz.

The deaths follow a haunting Illinois trend. In fiscal year 2015, 16 of 102 counties experienced a domestic violence-related killing. Four occurred in Winnebago County.

“Domestic violence affects every part of our community– our homes, places of business, schools, neighborhoods and it drives our violent crime rate,” Office Director Jennifer Cacciapaglia said. “This office recognizes the need to shift our response from a solely law-enforcement and court perspective to a collaborative community effort.”

Cacciapaglia said her office is joining with critical stakeholders and community members to take a holistic response to provide effective survivor support and swift offender accountability.

Rockford is also the second-worst city in Illinois for sex trafficking. Illinois is No. 8 in the country. In 2016, there were 498 reported runaways in Rockford.

O’Shea added that until the holistic approach really takes hold, it is the job of the police to be as responsive as possible to keep the city safe. He knows investigators can’t prevent every crime. But some elements of what programs like Cacciapaglia’s and community engagement efforts bring are behind-the-scenes and have long-term benefits. One of the keys the chief added, is to prevent youth from falling into a life of crime.

“Most recently, our concerns have turned to the domestic violence arena,” he said. “And verses some of the other cases that we charge that might be gang-related or drug-related, that is an area where we need to make more progress.”

According to the city’s study, boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children as adults. Children who grow up witnessing gun crimes are also likely to commit similar offenses as adults, other studies have shown.

“We are working on the back end with community engagement, trying to bring up the next generation,” O’Shea said. “That’s the future. That’s the next generation of Rockford and what we gear a lot of efforts toward. That’s going to change the future–how we raise these kids and relationships we have with them now when they’re young. That is going to make Rockford better and a safer place.”

Bruscato added, “The Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s Office, the Rockford Police Department and the rest of the fine law-enforcement agencies in our community are continuing to work hard to solve these crimes. And we are looking to make changes that will have a similar significant impact.” R.

This story has been updated.

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