Counting crime in the smaller towns
By Dave Gathman firstname.lastname@example.org November 13, 2012 10:18PM
Crime scenes in smaller towns include this one in Gilberts where suspect Frank Hill murdered his victim and set the hom on fire on Telluride Drive in Gilberts in 2007. 01/09/07 | Sun-Times Media~File Photo
Worst crime in area towns, 2011
Carpentersville 1 Streamwood 1
all other towns 0
St. Charles 3
South Elgin 1
West Dundee 1
all other towns 0
St. Charles 9
South Elgin 1
East Dundee 1
West Dundee 1
Sleepy Hollow 0
Updated: December 15, 2012 6:14AM
It was almost half a year ago that the FBI issued its “Uniform Crime Reports 2011,” showing that Elgin had the second-lowest rate per capita of both violent crimes and property crimes among the eight cities in Illinois with 100,000 or more people. (The best in both categories was Naperville; the worst were Rockford for violent crimes and Springfield for property crimes.)
But that June report contained only figures for cities over 100,000. Now the FBI also has finished compiling the number of crimes in each smaller town in 2011.
The result provides a snapshot of the state of crime last year in local mini-cities as big as Carpentersville and South Elgin and St. Charles, and in local villages as small as Sleepy Hollow and the Dundees.
Of 14 towns in The Courier-News area, it might not be surprising that Elgin itself had the highest overall rate of “violent crime,” which the FBI defines as murders and intentional manslaughters plus forcible rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults. The “City in the Suburbs” had about 26 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.
It might be more surprising that the second-highest violent-crime rate was East Dundee’s, at 21 per 10,000 — for misleading reasons that will be explained later in this story. Algonquin fell in not far behind at 16 per 10,000.
To avoid violence, the place to be was Sleepy Hollow. Despite a population of more than 3,300, this high-income bedroom village scored a perfect “0” in violent crime — no murders, no rapes, no robberies, not even any aggravated assaults. It’s the crime-control world’s equivalent to batting a thousand, at least regarding violent crime.
Pingree Grove bats .998 or so in that same category, with just one violent crime — an aggravated battery — in 2011, and zero the year before.
Huntley also is notable. Despite a population of more than 24,000, or eight times as many as Sleepy Hollow, it had just three aggravated batteries and no other violent crimes.
Sleepy Hollow didn’t score quite as well when it comes to “property crimes,” which the FBI defines as burglaries, thefts and motor-vehicle thefts. But the Hollow’s 28 thefts, just one vehicle theft and just five burglaries gave it a property-crime rate of barely more than one per 10,000 population.
By comparison, a large number of thefts in East Dundee and its small population gave that village the highest overall rate of property crimes, with 425 per 10,000 residents, followed closely by its cross-river neighbor, West Dundee, with 317.
Pingree Grove had the lowest rate of property crimes in the area, followed by Bartlett and Gilberts.
Comparing local towns also is complicated by the fact that the 2011 reports do not include all the stats for Hampshire, Gilberts or Pingree Grove. Pingree Grove also is missing from the 2010 report. Pingree Grove Police Chief Carol Lussky was able to supply the missing numbers for this story. But up-to-date stats for Hampshire and Gilberts remained unavailable at press time.
Hampshire Police Chief Brian Thompson explained that the state police, who collect each department’s numbers and funnel them on to the FBI, changed during the year from a paper reporting system to a computerized one — and some village police departments, such as Hampshire’s, didn’t notice this soon enough to be included in the 2011 figures.
Mark Twain once quoted a world statesman in saying “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” This can be especially true when it comes to crime reports, and even more so when talking about crimes that occur only one or two or three times a year in towns of the size in the Fox Valley.
“The only (wise) use of crime statistics is to look at the broad brush strokes,” said Gilberts Police Chief Steven Williams.
Even the overall “violent crime” and “property crime” totals — those “broad strokes” — can be misleading. For example, last year East Dundee’s rate of violent crime per resident was twice as high as neighboring Carpentersville’s. But that was because East Dundee’s population is so much smaller that its six violent crimes look worse per person than Carpentersville’s 39. And while all but one of East Dundee’s violent crimes were nothing more than aggravated batteries (East Dundee also had one robbery), most observers would be more alarmed by Carpentersville’s one murder and 13 robberies.
The great majority of “violent crimes” in almost all cities and villages are what the FBI defines as “aggravated assault,” or what in Illinois would usually be called “aggravated battery.” And even that can be misleading: In Illinois, a smack to the face that usually would be a mere misdemeanor becomes a felony “aggravated battery” if the face being smacked happens to be of a police officer or a teacher, for example.
In Elgin in 2010, one woman was charged with Class X aggravated battery for scratching a police officer’s finger while they were wrestling over a car key. Someone who was kicked and beaten within an inch of his life, or shot non-fatally, would count as one aggravated assault in that same category.
Other crimes also can be defined different ways in different towns. In fact, the FBI report notes that the city of Chicago refuses to accept the FBI’s definition of a “forcible rape” and, as a result, the FBI refuses to report the number of rapes in Chicago. Because the total “violent crimes” include forcible rape, the FBI also refuses to list the total number of violent crimes in Chicago.
But even something as apparently straightforward as burglary can be different in the eyes of different beholders, Gilberts’ Chief Williams notes.
“Many communities don’t count storage locker break-ins as a burglary; they report them as just thefts,” Williams said. “And what if you have an apartment complex where somebody breaks into 15 storage lockers at one time? Some communities would report that as one burglary or one theft. Others might say it is 15 burglaries or 15 thefts. That can make a huge difference in a small village that has only two or three burglaries all year.”
When the numbers are so small, sheer chance also plays a big role in what looks like a big increases or a big decrease. If Bartlett had three robberies in 2010 and two robberies in 2011, one could accurately say that “the number of robberies zoomed 50 percent in Bartlett.” But wouldn’t it put things in better perspective to say simply that ”Bartlett had one more robbery than the year before”?
That doesn’t mean some changes weren’t eye-catching, however. The Algonquin robbery rate merits the word “zoomed,” whether one says “it zoomed sixfold from 2010 to 2012” or “it zoomed from two robberies to 12.”
St. Charles has only 50 percent more people than adjoining South Elgin, but it had nine times as many robberies (St. Charles nine, South Elgin one). And Streamwood, only slightly bigger than St. Charles, had twice as many robberies as St. Charles.
One thing that can be said is that one’s chance of being murdered in any Elgin-area town is tiny. Elgin itself had just five homicides last year, or about one for every 20,000 people in the city. The only other area homicides for the year were one in Carpentersville, where a woman fell victim to domestic violence and one in Streamwood.
The year before, four people were killed in Elgin and one (allegedly the victim of an angry roommate) in Gilberts.
When it comes to property crimes, some villages also have much more exposure to theft than others because they have more retail stores, and shoplifting often makes up the lion’s share of that crime.
West Dundee had 216 thefts last year and East Dundee 113, while Sleepy Hollow — bigger than East Dundee and almost half the size of West Dundee — had just 28 thefts. The difference is that Sleepy Hollow has almost no businesses, while the Dundees do.
Elgin, South Elgin and Algonquin have large retail spreads along Randall Road that give them an exposure to theft that Hampshire and Pingree Grove and Bartlett don’t have to worry about.
Credit and blame
While these numbers tell how serious a crime problem exists in a given town, police chiefs warn that people should not jump too quickly to assigning blame or credit. A low crime rate may mean a town has “darned great police work,” as Pingree Grove’s Lussky jokes. But it also may mean it has lucked out with the kind of people and businesses who call it home.
In peaceful Pingree Grove, “We do a lot of patrolling, so that may deter a lot of property crimes,” Lussky said. “When I worked in Hanover Park, a lot of our crime was gang-related. We have gang members who live in Pingree Grove, but they seem to go elsewhere to do their bad things. A lot of our officers also came from departments that had gang problems, and they’re very aware of it. When we see something developing (with gang activity), we nip it in the bud.
“We also don’t have the kind of bar scene that some towns do, which can generate a lot of violent crime,” Lussky said.
“The people who live in Hampshire somewhat respect each other,” said Hampshire’s Thompson. “We still have our share of domestic arguments, and we have the transient public who come in from out of town and cause problems. But things have been quiet lately even up at the truck stop” since a Chicago-based gang of burglars who had been targeting parked semis was arrested two years ago.
To see the statistics for each city and village in the United States for last year, go to www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011