By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — The city released its year-end crime report on Tuesday, showing a drop in several types of violent offenses.
It’s a sign of progress that Mayor Tom McNamara said is difficult to celebrate given a violent start to 2023 that has included four killings in one five-day span and a funeral home van that was stolen with a body still inside.
“It is hard to stand before you and talk about these decreases, especially on the heels of the violence that our community has endured over the last couple of weeks,” McNamara said. “However, I do think it is important that we as a community do take a look at the work that we’ve accomplished in 2022 and talk about some of the progress that we saw take place.”
McNamara and Police Chief Carla Redd delivered the report during a roughly 40-minute news conference that also detailed some of the city’s recent efforts to curtail crime, from bolstering police technology and the number of officers on the street to prevention programs designed to intervene with youth who experience violence or trauma at home. The later is key, McNamara said, because the city’s stats show roughly 70% of juvenile perpetrators experienced domestic or sexual violence at home.
“I believe the programs we are now implementing are going to be successful, but the data will show us that,” McNamara said. “These programs that we’re implementing are still in their infancy, so the payoff right now seems small.
“The most recent violence doesn’t deter us. The most recent violence shows us that we need to double down on our efforts on prevention and intervention.”
Redd said that 2022 was not anything like how this year has started. There was a roughly 8% drop in violent crime, and homicides decreased for a second straight year after a record 36 in 2020. There were 15 homicides in 2022, a decline of 37.5% from the year before.
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Redd also noted that none of the killings last year were connected to domestic violence. In 2021, about 17% of homicides were acts of domestic violence. The city also saw an overall decline in the percentage of violent crime connected to domestic incidents. About 38% of violent crime was domestic-related last year compared to nearly 40% in 2021, according to police stats.
Increases and updates
The city saw a sharp increase in auto thefts, which rose by 64% to 783 in 2022.
That can largely be credited to an issue with certain Kia and Hyundai models that can be started without a key. Videos that showed how to steal those cars went viral on social media last year.
However, Redd said many vehicle thefts are crimes of opportunity by culprits who took advantage when a car was left running with the doors unlocked. It happens more frequently in winter, when people start their cars to warm them up and then leave them briefly unattended.
In fact, Redd said, that’s what happened when a funeral van was stolen from Collins & Stone Funeral Home on Saturday with a body still inside. The van was found a day later by the Chicago Police Department, but the body wasn’t located until Monday. It was discovered in a body bag in a south Chicago neighborhood.
“My heart goes out to the family,” Redd said. “I hope we never have to see anything like this again.”
She also provided updates on the four homicide investigations underway since the start of the year. She said Rockford police are working with federal agencies and several other municipal police forces to try to apprehend William Jones, the 40-year-old man accused of killing Peggy Anderson at Pinnon’s Meats.
One arrest has been made after three people were killed and two others were injured Jan. 15 at an apartment on 23rd Street.
“That investigation is very much still active, to the point where we’re pulling people in on a daily basis, almost,” Redd said.
Programs and data
McNamara noted several investments from the past year designed to help police. The city doubled the area where gunshot detection systems are located, it quadrupled the number of surveillance cameras and is adding about 100 mobile license-plate readers to ensure every police squad in the city has the device.
The city also approved a new labor contract with its police union earlier this month that includes a pilot program for officers on the afternoon shift to work 12 hours rather than 10.
“It will dramatically increase the number of officers that we have on our streets during a very high call time period,” McNamara said.
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McNamara also said the office of domestic and community violence prevention has either started, expanded or helped fund 20 programs recently. That’s part of a holistic approach that he said is needed to curtail crime.
“Violence is not just a Rockford Police Department issue; it truly is a community-wide issue,” McNamara said. “We are one piece of the overall solution. … Crime is absolutely a systematic problem, so we need a systematic solution. That systematic solution means that everyone needs to play their role: And again, That means the courts, that means the schools, that means clergy, probation, law enforcement, us at the city, the county, DCFS, social service agencies, everyday citizens and the state of Illinois.”
He said the city will measure the success of all programs to determine whether they should continue to be funded. Some of the recent initiatives include a workforce development program that celebrated its first graduates last year, a new community healing center at the Boys & Girls Club on Kilburn Avenue, mental health interventions done in partnership with firefighters and mental health professionals, and a range of youth programs.
He said that 2022 showed progress, but he’s not satisfied.
“We all need to play our role, and right now, as the statistics show you, we need to play our role a hell of a lot better.”