Rockford, Illinois. – The teenagers were arrested so many times that Deputy Secretary Kurt Whisenand knew their names. Accused of shooting, carjacking and armed robbery, they have become some of the most violent young criminals in Rockford, Illinois.
But it was a report a few years ago that gave Wisenand the most suspension.
Police believed that most of the five (13 or 14 at the time) were sexually abused by the same man one of the boys met on social media. The man bought them gifts, left them alone, and abused them. He was finally arrested and sentenced to 20 years in federal prison.
Reading the report was “a kind of light bulb moment”. This didn’t surprise investigators for many years, but Wisenand reconsidered how he and others in law enforcement were tackling violent crimes.
After a scrutiny a few months later, Wisenand had data to support his premonition. Approximately 70% of criminals under the age of 17 involved in violent crimes in northern Illinois City between 2016 and 2019 were exposed to domestic or sexual abuse. For some, abuse began before the age of one and lasted for years.
This is Rockford’s overhaul using part of a federal storm of about $ 54 million after a pandemic year when violent crime rates in Illinois’ fifth-largest city soared alongside many other cities. A short version of the method you decided to do. Approach to juvenile delinquency. This means hiring data analysts to improve the way the city as a whole interacts with young people, from police to schools to social welfare agencies. Perhaps looking for these youngest victims early will prevent crime from happening years ahead, they say.
Approximately $ 2 million invested by the city comes from the American Rescue Planning Act. This is a $ 1.9 trillion package that has poured billions of dollars of economic stimulus directly into local governments. Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara said this was a “lifetime amount”, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic broke the finances of many communities.
With so much money and so much room for spending, communities across the United States are experimenting with new long-term ways to fix what’s broken in cities. For some, it means dealing with an increase in homelessness, replacing lead pipes that are sickening children, or finding alternative ways to combat high crime.
There is no guarantee that any of the experiments will work. And in the case of Rockford, it will take years before everyone can say for sure. But a year after the number of people injured in murder and shooting doubled, city leaders are taking a calculated risk.
“Overall, we’ve been committing crime in the same way for 30 years,” McNamara said. “We know we can’t keep doing things the same way.”
The U.S. rescue program, approved by the Democratic Party in March because of Republican opposition to spending heavily on projects unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic, was the earliest legislative outcome of President Joe Biden. It was one. Large-scale plans included money for COVID-19 vaccination, a $ 1,400 check for individuals, increased unemployment benefits, and tax credits expected to reduce child poverty. It also provides $ 350 billion to state, local and tribal governments.
With the rise of violent crimes this summer, Biden advised local authorities to use some of their assignments to deal with shootings and murders. In some local governments, it meant hiring more police officers and offering bonuses. Others have turned to non-police initiatives such as summer jobs and mentoring programs.
In Rockford, a city of about 150,000 just south of the Wisconsin border, the mayor and city council did not require a proposal from the president.
Crime has been a continuing challenge for former manufacturing hubs, once known as the “world’s screw capital” of millions of fasteners manufactured. The city lost its job as the factory closed beyond the Rust Belt and a pandemic followed. Rockford currently has the highest unemployment rate of any metropolitan area in Illinois, leading to foreclosures, housing deterioration, and nearly a quarter of the poor population. According to FBI statistics, the violent crime rate in 2019 was more than three times the national rate for cities of similar size. Not all police report criminal data to the FBI.
McNamara, whose father was Mayor of Rockford in the 1980s, studied criminology and sociology at university. Shortly after taking office as mayor in 2017, his office began analyzing criminal data. In the findings: About 40% of the city’s violent crimes were domestic violence.
McNamara has set up a special office to help set up a Family Peace Center in downtown Rockford. There, victims of domestic violence can receive urgent protection orders, find counseling, and help with food, housing and other services under one roof. Rockford police also work outside the center. This is a multi-agency approach that city officials want to use for juvenile delinquency.
Between 2016 and 2019, the number of violent crimes in the city declined each year, according to Rockford police. Starting in November 2019, the city has progressed for four consecutive months without murder, and McNamara expected Rockford to decline further year-on-year in 2020.
“Then a pandemic broke out and all the hell seemed to collapse,” he said.
Most of the shootings the following year were part of what then police chief Dan Ossia called “tit for tat” between the two street gang factions. They were mainly concentrated in low-income areas where the city was home to many black and Hispanic inhabitants. According to O’Shea, too many boys ran around the town with guns and “unintentionally blew up.”
Police said some of the problems could be that children were out of school or police officers couldn’t get out into the neighborhood and interact with the inhabitants because of COVID-19. .. They say that family life, which young people may have lacked support before the pandemic, has become more difficult.
A 37-year-old man was charged with shooting at a bowling alley, killing three and injuring three. And the two murders were domestic cases, including the strangulation of a woman who reported abusing her boyfriend a few days ago.
The eruption of violence among those stuck at home was not a surprise to Delicia Harris, a survivor of the abuse who worked for Rockford’s youth program.
“You need to spend more time at home with these fools,” Harris says of the abusive people. “I can’t go anywhere, so I can’t say’go to grandma’or’go to aunt’s cooking.'”
The violence often involved young people who grew up surrounded by violence. Between 2016 and 2020, 79% of murder victims and 81% of known murder suspects were involved in police-reported abuse cases, according to Wisenand.
In a city review of a boy accused of violent crime, a typical young man, as a victim or witness, had experienced more than 12 cases of domestic or sexual abuse by the age of 18. Some have seen parents and siblings shot and attacked with knives. In one case, the girl was a victim or witness of 26 separate attacks between the ages of 9 and 13 — including 10 when she was sexually assaulted. At the age of 17, she was arrested for assault.
“My idea at the time was,’Well, of course she was,'” said Wisenando.
Camp Hope is one of the programs Rockford has already offered for children who are victims, as well as children who are present when abuse is occurring.
The large bus that brought the first group of 8 to 11 years old to the camp in late August was like a spaceship, dubbed the “Ship Hope” for its luxurious seating and lighting. It was the first time that a park, hundreds of acres of forests and paths along the river outside the town, some of them left the city when getting off at Atwood.
The group hiked through the woods for three days, tried archery and talked about people who had overcome adversity. Annie Hobson, Youth Services Manager at the Family Peace Center, aims to help them believe in themselves and learn how to deal with their difficulties.
For Hobson, it makes perfect sense that exposed children could commit violence on their own.
“That’s what they saw. That’s what they know,” she said, adding that campers will leave with better coping skills and mentors that connect them all year round.
The Associated Press was unable to interview camp participants due to the city’s policy of keeping minors confidential. Other programs being attempted at Rockford are specifically targeted at girls and teenagers.
In the case of domestic violence, “I don’t know if I can properly explain how children should see such things happen,” said the mayor’s office on domestic violence and community violence prevention. Jennifer Katchapaglia, who runs it, said.
She said if nothing was done for those children. I will pay now or later. “
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When the wind blows, the city tries to reach out to children trapped in violence
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