Crime rate in Illinois drops for eighth consecutive year

Monday, June 23, 2003

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Illinois' overall crime rate dropped for an eighth consecutive year in 2002 -- but two of every five of the state's counties didn't follow the downward trend.

While a drop in crime in Cook County and the populous suburban counties surrounding Chicago drove a slight decrease in crime statewide, many areas saw slight increases in criminal activity.

Criminal sexual assaults in the state also rose for the second straight year after several years of decline, but experts say better reporting often plays a role when such crimes increase.

The 518,379 crimes reported last year represents a 1.5 percent decrease from 2001, according to Illinois State Police records released Sunday. That's 41.7 crimes per 1,000 people, down from 42.4 per 1,000 a year earlier.

Illinois -- and the rest of the nation -- continues to benefit from factors that lead to reductions in crime, said David Kauzlarich, a sociology professor at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.

For one, America is aging, and younger people are the ones most apt to commit crimes. Tougher sentencing laws mean more criminals are off the street, Kauzlarich said. And community policing, in which officers walk beats and cooperate with neighborhoods, has helped.

"There's a higher level of control in the neighborhoods. People are working together to make crime less attractive," Kauzlarich said.

Overall, 44 counties showed increases in all crimes, with 57 reporting fewer crimes and one with no change, according to the statistics that Illinois compiles annually for the federal government.

Paul Logli, state's attorney of Winnebago County, said the poor economy could be a factor in his county's 8.3 percent increase in crime. The county seat, Rockford, has a double-digit unemployment rate.

"These are difficult economic times, which in some homes leads to more financial pressure," Logli said.

Urban counties outside the Chicago area reported an increase in crime. In addition to Winnebago's jump, Rock Island's crime rate increased 7.6 percent and Sangamon's 7.5 percent.

Cook County, excluding Chicago, reported a 1.5 percent decrease in crime. The collar counties surrounding Cook saw a 2.1 percent decline, while there was a drop of 0.7 percent in the rest of the state.

Rural counties reported 1.1 percent fewer crimes. But 15 counties recorded double-digit percentage increases in crime, and most were small, with an average population of 22,500.

There were 1,036 fewer violent crimes -- murder, criminal sexual assault, robbery and assault -- statewide in 2002 than a year earlier, a drop of 1.3 percent. Property crimes decreased by 7,013, or 1.6 percent.

But all was not good news -- criminal sexual assault went up 5.6 percent statewide.

There were 6,030 sexual assaults reported in 2002, compared to 5,708 in 2001, 5,687 in 2000 and 6,286 in 1999.

Polly Poskin, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said increased availability of health and support services for rape victims -- along with better training for police and prosecutors about sexual crimes -- has prompted more people to report attacks.

But Poskin said it's impossible to know whether there are more rapes or more people reporting the crime.

While Cook County accounted for nearly half of the sexual assaults in the state, the number increased just 2.3 percent, to 2,671. The largest percentage increases were in eight counties with an average population of 20,700, where rapes combined increased from 20 to 60.

Residents of some of Chicago's most troubled neighborhoods were heartened to see overall crime drop.

"People were saying, 'I need to move, I need to get up out of here.' People are not saying that now," said Jackie Reed, executive director of the Westside Health Authority in Chicago's Austin neighborhood. "They're digging in deep and making a commitment to fight crime in their neighborhood."

Crime in Chicago dropped 2.8 percent in 2002. Even so, the city is ahead of last year's murder pace. The Austin neighborhood has been hit with several murders in recent months.

A major factor behind crime is recidivism, Reed said. She said employers have increasingly shied away from hiring people with criminal records, forcing some to return to crime.

"People want to work, people want to change, people want an opportunity, but there are structural barriers in place," Reed said.

Three largely middle- and upper-class Chicago suburbs had the lowest crime rates among cities with 50,000 or more residents. Wheaton, population 55,400, was lowest with 15.8 crimes per 1,000 residents. Naperville, with 137,000 residents, had only 18 crimes per 1,000; and Arlington Heights, with 76,000 people, had 20.3 per 1,000.

Among property crimes, auto theft dropped 8 percent, theft declined 1.6 percent, arson rose slightly and burglary jumped 2.5 percent.

Loves Park, a northern suburb of Rockford with about 20,000 residents, saw a 26 percent increase in crime in 2002, largely because of an 80 percent hike in burglaries -- from 159 to 286.

The city "has that reputation of being a laid-back, quiet-type of town, even though we are growing," police Chief Patrick Carrigan said. "A lot probably perceive it as a place where they can go wander the neighborhoods and commit their burglaries."

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On the Net

Illinois State Police Crime in Illinois Report:

http://www.isp.state.il.us/crime/cii2002...

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