Chief of Police Jeff Swoboda talks about falling crime rates in 2012 during a press conference on crime stats Thursday at the Elgin Police Department. January 17, 2013 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 19, 2013 3:06PM
ELGIN — 2011 was the Year of the Robbery at the Elgin Police Department, as officers made a special effort to address a rise in muggings. Last year was the Year of the Burglary, as a rise in home and business break-ins during 2011 provoked a multi-front effort to cut those down. And in 2013, Police Chief Jeff Swoboda announced Thursday, the main targets will be vehicle burglaries and shoplifting.
But that direction indirectly reflects a bit of good news as Swoboda released the final yearlong crime stats for Elgin for 2012. The number of burglaries dropped drastically during 2012, down 36 percent from 564 break-ins in 2011 to 359 last year, and is now at its lowest point in 20 years. And the number of robberies went down slightly, from 82 to 80, after dropping the year before.
The reason car burglaries and shoplifting are being targeted is that motor-vehicle burglary and thefts, along with aggravated assaults, were the only three of 10 major-crime categories that went up from 2011 to 2012.
So is crime getting worse and worse in Elgin through the years? Not true. The actual number of major crimes as defined by the FBI — not just the rate per thousand people but the raw number — went down 4 percent and is now the lowest it has been in four decades.
Back to 1972
“The number of Part I crimes last year actually was lower than it was in Elgin in 1972, when the city’s population was 55,000, or almost exactly half what it is today,” Swoboda said.
The Elgin of 1972 saw 2,659 of these major crimes reported. That rose, with occasional yearly exceptions, through about 1990, reaching a peak of 4,905 in 1989 and 4,877 in 1991. And then the number, again with some yearly exceptions, began a more or less continuous drop until it reached 2,557 three years ago, 2,372 in 2011, and 2,276 last year.
The number of homicides dropped from five in 2012 to just two last year — one a gang shooting by teens, one allegedly committed with a frying pan to the head of a woman’s significant other.
The number of what the FBI defines as “forcible rapes/criminal sexual assaults” dropped 24 percent, from 80 to 61, after it was noticeably higher last year than in most similar-size cities. Swoboda said EPD leaders aren’t sure why Elgin‘s rape rate may be high, but “we didn’t find a single one last year where a stranger raped somebody outside the home. We had people falling asleep drunk and being raped by someone else at a party, and we have a lot of family members sexually assaulting each other and some date rapes, but not what people think of as a stranger rape.”
Swoboda said gang-motivated shooting incidents, most of which did not result in any injury, also continued their slide, from 37 five years ago to 21 in 2010, 17 in 2011 and just seven all last year.
“Seven months of last year had zero gang shootings,” the chief said. “Four months had one each; and one month, June, had three,” including the murder of a teenager near the 7-Eleven store on East Chicago Street.
Swoboda said a campaign against car burglaries will use the slogan, “If you like it, lock it,” because police believe half or more of the vehicles burglarized were simply left unlocked.
He said he is not sure why thefts have been going up, but many of them are shoplifting incidents at the growing number of stores along Randall Road.
“This might simply show that the stores are catching more shoplifters,” he said. “Shoplifting is like drunken driving. Just because the offender doesn’t get caught doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.”
However, to fight that, the department plans education and training for store managers in 2013.
Among other new anti-crime programs in 2013, Swoboda said:
Whenever a crime occurs in a neighborhood, officers will knock on doors nearby and let residents know the crime has happened.
A new software program named Predpol, for “Predictive Policing,” went online a week ago and claims to be able to predict where future crimes will occur based on various data inputs. The department plans to increase police presence in such areas.
Police will keep in touch with habitual criminals who have been released.