ROCKFORD (WIFR) – Coming off the heels of one of the deadliest months in Rockford history, a federal lawmaker is stepping in to help end the violence. A new report shows our state has one of the highest rates of gang activity in the country with a lot of those crimes reported right here in Rockford.
From murders, to drive-by shootings, it’s been a constant battle to keep Rockford’s streets safe. Police say more than half of recent violent crimes are gang related, so Police Chief Chet Epperson along with other law enforcement leaders are pushing for harsher punishments for gang members and repeat offenders.
“This really takes it to another step. Do some target hardening on those thugs that are out there who are shooting innocent victims in the city of Rockford, it's unacceptable."
U.S. Senator Mark Kirk is also joining the fight. The federal leader, met with Epperson and members from surrounding police departments to discuss how to stop the violence.
One idea is to create a special task force, made up of federal, state, and local agencies. The group would meet weekly and push for longer jail time for convicted gang members.
Don George, a chaplain with the Winnebago County juvenile detention center says he isn’t convinced harsher sentences will help.
Prevention is always the best way, yea intervention says it’s place and it’ll never go away, but to prevent something, I believe we can stop it before it gets started.
George says police should focus more on gang prevention programs for youth to keep them off the streets and out of jail.
Although overall crime is down in Rockford, Chief Epperson says violent crimes, including gang violence, has gone up.
It’s not just the police department making efforts, some community organizations are also trying to help. We spoke with workers at Booker Washington who say they’re trying to start an anti-gang and bullying program in November, something that Ceasefire may help with if they are funded.