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updated: 1/1/2011 1:24 PM

Murders up last year in Lake County

But officials see some positive trends

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The number of murders in Lake County increased in 2010 from the year before, but law enforcement officials said not all the news was bad.

There were 13 homicides in the county last year, according to information compiled by the county coroner's and state's attorney's offices, up from 10 recorded in 2009.

But that number represents only the third time in the last 10 years that homicides have increased over the year before, and is equal to the average yearly count of the past decade.

Even more statistically important, the average number of murders in each of the three decades since 1980 has decreased even as the county's population has nearly doubled.

Records show there was an average of 19 murders a year in the 1980s, 17.6 per year in the 1990s and 13.4 per year in the first decade of the 21st century.

In contrast, the county's population in 1980 was about 440,000, while it hovers around 750,000 today.

"As always, one homicide is one homicide too many," State's Attorney Michael Waller said. "But I cannot ignore the fact that the average number of murders has been declining over the past 30 years, while the county has been experiencing phenomenal population growth."

Another relatively bright spot in the 2010 statistics is victims 30 years old or younger, traditionally the age group most frequently victimized by murders, tied its lowest level over the past 15 years.

Five people 30 or younger died at the hands of another last year, the lowest number of deaths in that age group since 2000 and well below the average of 8.86 per year since 1995.

Sheriff Mark Curran said he believes law enforcement and the courts have been joined by medical science in reducing the number of deaths in that age group.

"Proactive policing and mandatory sentencing have certainly reduced the number of gang-related murders, which is the greatest cause of the deaths of victims under 30," Curran said. "But it is not an indication that gang violence is on the wane, because people are surviving gunshot wounds that would have killed them just a few years earlier because of advances in emergency medical care."

Waller said he believes efforts by law enforcement and social service agencies also are responsible for slowing the carnage.

"There are several anti-violence education and after-school programs which address the problem of young people killing young people that appear to be sinking in," Waller said. "Those, coupled with the anti-child abuse programs young people can take advantage of, are really our best chance of keeping our young people alive."

Coroner Richard Keller said there is another effort to reach out to young people that could be influencing the reduction in the tally.

"Drug and alcohol abuse education, I think, also contributes to the reduction in fatal violence in that age group," Keller said. "Just so much of it seems to flow from intoxication that if you make progress in showing people the dangers of such abuse, it is going to have an impact."

The youngest person to be murdered in 2010 was 5-year-old Tommy Tray Davis III, of Zion, who died Sept. 6 from injuries police said he suffered in multiple beatings.

The county's oldest victim was 70-year-old David Queen, beaten to death in his Antioch Township home on Feb. 4.

In all, eight males and five females were murdered in 2010, with firearms responsible for seven of the deaths. Eight victims were black, four were white and one was Hispanic.

Police agencies made arrests in 11 of the cases, while two remain unsolved.

Curran said the high number of crimes that were solved is an indication the community and the police are working together to fight the scourge.

"Police agencies throughout the county have been stepping up over the years and that is visible in the general decline in crime in general," he said. "It is also an indication that the citizens are pitching in with information that either keeps crimes from happening or brings about the swift capture of offenders."