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ROCKFORD – Police Chief Dan O’Shea sees the violence that in 2016 led to the most homicides in Rockford since 1996 as a community problem that can’t be solved by law enforcement alone.
O’Shea said poverty – which affects one-fourth of Rockford’s population – has created more opportunities for violence to plague some Rockford neighborhoods.
“There isn’t one simple solution,” O’Shea said. “You have socioeconomic factors, a depressed economy, loss of jobs, lack of education, and you have a lack of parenting.”
Still, Rockford’s police force is taking new steps to fight violent crime.
Police have charged suspects with first-degree murder in 10 of the 27 homicides committed in 2016. In several other cases, there isn’t yet enough evidence for a murder charge, O’Shea said, but a primary suspect was arrested on other charges.
O’Shea said Rockford police are working to reduce violent crime by:
– Reorganizing and centralizing the department’s detective bureau. The changes have shown some early promise.
– Activating specialized police units that focus enforcement efforts on the region’s most violent criminals.
– Re-establishing a Rockford Housing Authority police unit to improve relationships and fight crime on family public housing campuses.
– Strengthening relationships between police and residents, a crucial step in the reporting, prevention and solving of crimes. Police partnered with United Way of Rock River Valley to establish “strong houses” in higher-crime areas where police meet and socialize with residents and their children. Neighborhood groups also meet in the strong houses.
– Expanding ties with the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department and assigning more officers to partner with the FBI, Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Drug Enforcement Agency.
– Establishing this year a resident officer program in which police officers will live in some of the city’s most at-risk neighborhoods.
Domestic violence: A new approach
Police officers across the region could begin using a new standardized response to domestic violence this year. It could cut down on the number of domestic violence-related homicides in the region.
Training is expected to begin this quarter.
Winnebago County Family and Domestic Violence Presiding Judge Rosemary Collins obtained a two-year, $650,000 federal grant to pilot the new approach. Police will use an 11-question survey based on a tool that has shown success in other cities. It is used to determine whether a domestic violence victim is at risk of becoming a homicide victim.
Based on answers to yes or no questions, the domestic violence victim can then be connected immediately with specially trained advocates who can offer social services and counseling.
Domestic violence is among the most common reasons police are called in Rockford. The city police department responds to an average of 17.5 domestic violence-related calls every day.
O’Shea has increased the number of detectives assigned to domestic violence cases.
And he worked with Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana to house both departments domestic violence units together at the Winnebago County Criminal Justice Center.
“We’re adding investigators to the domestic violence bureau because we realized that 25 percent of our violent crimes are domestic related,” O’Shea said. “We realize it’s a problem, so let’s put more of our resources toward it.”