ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- Criminal chaos. That's how Rockford Police Chief Chet Epperson describes violence in our city. The crime rate has grabbed Senator Dick Durbin's attention.
"People want to feel safe in their homes, safe in their communities. We have to do everything we can from Washington, Springfield, county wide, regionally, and in the city of Rockford to make them feel safe again," he said.
Leading a closed-door meeting, Senator Durbin and Congresswoman Cheri Bustos sat down with local and federal law enforcement agencies to come up with a plan to get the most violent criminals off our streets. With more than 16,000 arrests in Winnebago County last year, Durbin says it's going to take teamwork.
"We're talking about massive numbers and to start moving that in the right direction requires a lot of different elements coming together," he said.
One suggestion, creating a multi-jurisdictional task force.
"To address the crime that is currently going on in our community, the biggest three: violence, guns, drugs and once you're doing that and you attack gangs as well I think then you've got a model that's going to be effective,” Winnebago County State’s Attorney Joe Bruscato, said.
To take guns out of the hands of parolee's the group wants to implement the “Don't Shoot” program, which has a zero-tolerance policy for ex-offenders. It's working in Peoria and leaders think it can work in Rockford too.
"We're really open to any evidence based practices. Obviously we can't continually keep arresting people because if arresting alone would solve the problem then we wouldn't have a crime problem," Chief Epperson, said.
Congresswoman Bustos says the Crime Summit is a good step forward, but now the hard work begins.
"The only way we're going to have success is to now execute on some of the ideas that we talked about," she said.
The group meets again in six months.
It was a closed door meeting, but leaders hosted a media briefing shortly after. They didn’t offer many specifics, but said they plan to implement some programs deemed successful in other communities like the “Don’t Shoot” program in Peoria, that targets parolees. They agreed what they’re doing ins’t working and that’s why a multi-jurisdictional task force might be in the cards, that way they could focus on catching the worst of the worst criminals.
“It’s time for us to coordinate these law enforcement agencies so that resources we have are used most effectively to make certain intelligence we gather for example on drug operations and narcotics activities is shared in every single level of government, so we’ve targeted the top offenders and make them the center of our efforts when in comes to law enforcement,” said Senator Durbin.
Officials hope by targeting those top offenders, we’ll see an immediate drop in crime, but some of those programs will take longer to implement.
As Senator Durbin said, it’s all about collaboration, which means cities working together with the county. It’s actually something they’ve already started.
As we’ve reported before in our Operation Safer Streets reports about city and county officers patrolling together, another collaboration is the parolee call-in program which started in March. The city, county, State’s Attorney office and a number of local agencies work together to get past offenders in touch with the services they need to stay out of trouble. Rockford Police Chief Chet Epperson says so far the results are promising.
"Our success so far in two months is one person has reoffended. Normally we have about 17 percent a week of people who are on parole, people who are on probation are being arrested outside that status,” said Chief Epperson.
This group plans on coming together again in six months to see what’s working and what’s not.
A lot of people were hoping Durbin and Bustos were going to come with money to help put more officers back on the streets. Unfortunately, they’re not getting money. Chairman Scott Christiansen said today in the last four years, the police and sheriff’s department cut 30% of their patrols due to budget cuts, but the Sheriff’s Department is in the process of hiring 5 deputies and the police department just added more than 15.