It Takes A Village: How domestic violence turns juvenile violence
In 2018 Rockford police officers arrested around 32 juveniles for violent criminal acts. That number is already higher in 2019 with two months left of the year.
"Currently we have 34 documented juvenile arrests for violent criminal acts," says Deputy Chief John Pozzi. "Last year at about this time we were in the area of 26."
Violent crime is classified by severity. Pozzi says it includes murder, rape and aggravated battery or aggravated discharge of a firearm. Areas on Huffman Blvd, West Street and Mulberry Street are all places where teens committed these crimes.
"I've been living in Rockford for 49 years," says resident Aaron Cooper. "It's gotten worse since I've been here. But all crimes have."
Cooper says he hopes kids realize what's at stake. "I wish they'd just grow up, and realize that getting in trouble messes your whole life up," he tells 23 News. "You get a record at 17 that follows you the rest of your life. You can't get a decent job. I would hope they would learn and try to do better."
Pozzi and other department leaders say the issue starts at home with parenting. Seventy-five percent of the teens arrested for violent crime in Rockford this year have documentation showing they witnessed, or were victims of domestic abuse.
"The center for disease prevention and control has estimated that in homes where domestic violence between partners occur, that co-occurring child abuse is up between 45 to 60 percent," says Judge Rosemary Collins, who is now retired after working on domestic abuse cases for almost 30 years.
That exposure to violence translates into many types of trauma for children," she explains. "We've also seen direct correlation between their own violence if they are exposed to those types of situations at an early age."
Collins says gang-life structure can be attractive to a child without a strong foundation at home. The violence within that home is enough to turn some teens to criminal lifestyles.
"Time and time again when those children who were in my courtroom who were charged with murder or other very serious crimes, you could see the history of violence in their families," she says.
The Rockford Police Department, domestic abuse survivor advocates and the City of Rockford are all working toward combating the issue.
"It takes a village, it really does," says Pozzi. "We only have once chance to do this right especially when it comes to youth in our community." He says community outreach programs like Cops-to-You, as well as basketball leagues and block parties are designed to connect with kids before they enter vulnerable years.
"We try to touch all different ages, all different neighborhoods, kids from different backgrounds, and get them involved in something," he says.
Pozzi also believes the school districts help, too.
"Our school resource officers, they have a lot of direct contact on a daily basis with all the kids in the schools, and they really are forming some great relationships and partnerships with the school district when it comes to kids they might think are at-risk," he says.
Collins says recent efforts city leaders are pushing could change the culture of violence altogether. Mayor McNamara, Police Chief Dan O'Shea, the Office on Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking and alder-people are working to implement a program called Camp Hope.
"[Camp Hope] is a place where children will be able to go who have these adverse childhood experiences," she says. "To get hope, to learn how to interact with other people and to realize there are other options in life other than participating in, directing in or being involved in violence."
She believes the efforts from the entire community will continue promoting a safer environment for kids, teens and adults alike.
"Those of us who have been working on this for a long time really feel a new sense of optimism and hope that we're going to change the culture of violence in our community, and it's going to start right now."