Even 30 months later, the first two days on the job remain fresh in Hanover Park Police Chief David Webb's memory. Back-to-back murders within a 24-hour span are hard to forget, after all.
"It was baptism by fire, for lack of a better term," Webb said.
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Hanover Park crimes downPart I crime 2011 2010 % change
Overall: 508 in 2011, 587 in 2010, down -13%
Murder: 1 in 2011, 0 in 2010, n/a
Crim. sexual assault: 3 in 2011, 10 in 2010, down 70%
Robbery: 6 in 2011, 15 in 2010, down 60%
Aggr. assault/battery: 35 in 2011, 24 in 2010, up 46%
Burglary: 89 in 2011, 81 in 2010, up 10%
Theft: 360 in 2011, 438 in 2010, down 18%
Motor vehicle theft: 12 in 2011, 19 in 2010, down 37%
Arson: 2 in 2011, 0 in 2010, n/a
But if one positive can be taken away from Hanover Park's darkest period -- the village was rocked by four murders and multiple stabbings in the first half of 2009 -- it was the urgency of the department's transformation.
The turnaround appears to be working, with Webb's recent announcement that the village's serious crime rate dropped to its lowest level since the department began tracking it in 1974.
Last year, the department recorded 508 offenses labeled as Part I crimes by the FBI, which comprise all serious offenses from motor vehicle theft to murder. It represented a 13 percent decrease from 587 crimes in 2010 and a 76 percent drop from 892 crimes in 2003.
"It's been a wave in a positive direction," Webb said. "We took a bad event and really changed things around. Some things were already in the works, but it sped up the process."
One of the most significant improvements relates to gang activity. There was just one gang-related shooting last year, down from three in 2010 and 10 in 2002.
A similar trend was found with gang-related graffiti, which officers say is often a precursor for violence. In 2011, there were 93 reports of graffiti compared to 179 in 2010 and 190 in 2003.
Webb attributes the results to a move toward community policing paired with intelligence driven policing.
Every two weeks, the department holds a staff meeting to analyze crime data and decide how to best allocate resources. Instead of frequent new assignments, officers now are assigned to a beat for a year.
Police also hold quarterly Area Response Team meetings with residents, recently offering its first session in Spanish. They send out frequent emails to alert citizens to problems.
Mayor Rod Craig and the village board committed to the transformation by supporting construction of a new police headquarters and better staffing.
The new $15 million police station opened earlier this month, moving the 99-person department out of a facility meant to accommodate just 40 employees. And there are 61 sworn police officers compared to 54 when Webb took over as chief.
"The board and the community's commitment to us has been vital," Webb said. "They're giving us the tools to get our job done."
Not every crime category improved. There was a slight uptick in burglaries and a 46 percent jump in aggravated assault and battery, both of which Webb believes are related to ongoing economic woes.
Still, he's pleased with what he sees as quality-of-life issues. Theft and motor vehicle theft last year dropped 18 and 37 percent, respectively. Code enforcement also was emphasized, leading to fewer problems at apartment complexes.
Looking forward, Webb said one of the department's 2012 goals is to continue efforts to curb gangs and complete narcotics investigations. Officers also are being encouraged to improve their relationship with the Hispanic community. Another focus will be curfew enforcement in the village, where juveniles must be off the streets an hour earlier than the state requires.
"We're in a very good place right now," Webb said. "These numbers just show how the strategies we're using are working."