State of the City: Rockford mayor makes crime reduction a ‘top priority’ again

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ROCKFORD — How to combat rampant crime dominated Mayor Tom McNamara’s annual State of the City address on Tuesday for a second consecutive year.

McNamara said reducing high rates of violent crime remains his "top priority" even as violent crime continues to increase in the city.

"Unfortunately, we are seeing more and more violent crime committed by youth," McNamara said. "Our officers are arresting 13,14 and 15-year-olds who are carrying guns, stealing cars and committing armed robberies."

Violent crime increased by 5.6% from 2,207 violent crimes in 2020 to 2,331 in 2021. That increase came on the heels of what was an especially violent 2020 when there were a record 36 homicides before recording 24 last year.

In response, McNamara expanded his Office of Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Prevention — which led the creation of the Family Peace Center downtown and has helped 950 survivors of domestic violence — to include community violence prevention with a $1.8 million budget increase.

The mayor said the city is attacking the "root cause" of violent crimes with a variety of at-risk youth intervention programs. Many of the programs involve working to mitigate the effects of trauma in juveniles who have witnessed or been victims of domestic or sexual violence. Most juveniles arrested for violent crimes in Rockford have experienced that kind of trauma.

"As a father, it is heartbreaking," McNamara said. "As mayor, it’s troubling to know so many of our young people lack a sense of belonging, they don’t have hope and they feel there are too few opportunities for them to succeed."

Local news: Mayor, police take aim at ‘root causes’ of Rockford crime with violence prevention office

Rockford is partnerning with schools, the Rockford Park District and others on a series of programs to work with at-risk youth. Programs include a "Handle with Care Program" that gives Rockford Public Schools a heads up that a student may have experienced a traumatizing event and Camp Hope, a summer camp and year-round mentorship program that works with at-risk youth.

But McNamara said that strategy is a long-term solution and could take time to pay off.

So far this year, the city has seen violent crime — including homicides, aggravated assaults, armed robberies and rapes — through April continue to tick upward. Violent crimes have increased 7% in year-to-date data compared to the same period of 2021. So far this year, there’s been 648 violent crimes including 92 robberies and 502 aggravated assaults.

To combat crime now, McNamara said the city is working to increase the number of police officers on the job. He believes they are needed to have an immediate impact on violent crime.

But although the city has authorized a police force of 302 sworn officers, Rockford has struggled to recruit and hire that many. Before hiring 10 officers this month, there were 277 Rockford officers, about the same number as a decade ago.

McNamara said the city will continue to work to hire more police officers. And he said City Council plans to increase funding for police technology, with plans to double the number of automated license plate readers and surveillance cameras.

"We will continue to equip all officers with the latest technology so they have all the tools necessary to keep our streets safe," McNamara said.

Other highlights from McNamara’s address included:

Neighborhood improvement

McNamara said Rockford is working to stabilize and improve neighborhoods. New programs have included a partnership with Habitat for Humanity to repair 50 homes owned by low to moderate income residents. In addition the city has focused resources on six of the city’s neighborhoods most plagued by crime for services, infrastructure repair and clean-up programs.

Blight reduction

The city also continues to combat blight by working in the court system to have dilapidated and dangerous properties demolished. Those efforts have included the demolition of the 140,000-square-foot building at 1800 Broadway that "had been vacant and decaying for more than a decade."

Rockford also supported the creation of the Northern Illinois Land Bank which focuses on clearing titles to vacant, abandoned and blighted properties. That allows them to be renovated and returned to property tax rolls. Since its creation, 14 vacant properties have been sold for $429,513.

Infrastructure repair

McNamara said the city in 2021 implemented the largest Capital Improvement Program in city history. The five-year plan calls for investing more than $62 million into major capital road and infrastructure projects, $30 million for repaving residential streets and alleyways, $10 million for pedestrian and bicycle amenity improvements and more than $3 million to improve storm water facilities. Hundreds of neighborhoods streets will be repaved in addition to major projects along Charles and West State streets.

Jeff Kolkey: (815) 987-1374; jkolkey@rrstar.com; @jeffkolkey

This article originally appeared on Rockford Register Star: Rockford mayor highlights work to cut crime, improve lives

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May 31, 2022 at 06:05PM

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