Officials plead with residents to speak up as shootings and auto thefts on the rise in Rockford

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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Shootings and auto thefts are on the increase in Rockford, according to a report released Wednesday.

Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara, Interim Police Chief Randy Berke, and Winnebago County State’s Attorney J. Hanley held a press conference to present the findings this afternoon.

Rockford has had 11 murders so far this year, down from 14 at the same time last year. Only 4 of 2021’s homicides have been solved to date.

“Most violent crime in Winnebago County is committed by small group of people, mostly gangs,” said Hanley. “A lot of times now, they’re armed, in vehicles, and they see each other and they shoot. Those missed bullets are going to go somewhere.”

According to Berke, violent crime in Rockford is up 13% over the previous year; auto thefts up 17%.

Year to date, shootings in the city were up 30% from last year, with more than 400 reported in the city through July. Total calls for gunfire rose 14%, and victims hit by gunfire up 19%.

“The crime we saw in 2020 and in 2021 is unacceptable. If we work together we will reduce violence crime and increase hope and opportunities,” McNamara said, adding, “[We know there are] more guns in Rockford, and getting into the hands of people who aren’t using them for protection but shoot and kill our citizens. Our police are working diligently and they have been having great success. Our officers have taken 70% more guns than last year.”

Hanley said Rockford Police Officers recover approximately one gun a day.

He continued by saying authorities are employing several strategies to combat the problem, including developing a strategy to target high risk offenders. He said he would outline that plan in the coming weeks.

He also said he will be proposing a gun court for Winnebago County, based on programs which have worked in other municipalities. In that model, all gun cases would go to one court which would prioritize gun crimes.

“I can’t [create] that. I need judges, public defenders. I can only advocate for it,” Hanley said.

Property crimes have dipped 13%; robbery was down slightly, at 3%.

Berke said traffic fatalities have increased this year, including pedestrians, motorcycles, and stolen cars.

He said crime was trending down, prior to 2020.

Crime started creeping up nationwide last summer, a trend criminologists say is hard to define and is likely due to a variety of factors such as historic unemployment, fear over the virus, and criminals being emboldened by the Defund the Police movement. Public mass shootings have also made an alarming return.

Berke went on to say that police in Rockford are trying to rebuild community relationships, and urged citizens to report on crimes, which help the police solve them.

“We need our community support,” McNamara added. “In a majority of incidents when someone is shot, someone knows something. We need the community when these incidents happen. We need the community to prevent these incidents from happening.”

Berke also said police officers will focus on de-escalation and training officers to use de-escalation to solve an incident.

“We need continued help from the courts with violent reoffenders, that they stay behind bars as they await trial,” McNamara said. “COVID and social issues have pitted our community against each other. It’s not a case of community versus police, it is the community with the police. It’s about providing hope and opportunity.

“We all need to play a role in making Rockford a safer community,” he continued.

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