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updated: 11/4/2013 5:33 AM

Elgin leaders seek solutions to violence

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Promoting peace involves interaction among a variety of community organizations, Elgin area leaders said Sunday at a forum titled "Elgin: Safe City -- Peaceful City."

A number of those organizations gathered Sunday in the Herrick Chapel at Judson College to discuss the challenges of violence and crime and the potential solutions.

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Some of the solutions offered at the forum, which was inspired by the shootings at Newtown, Conn., were quite basic, with Elgin Police Chief Jeff Swoboda pointing out that something as simple as keeping one's car locked and valuables out of the front seat can deter car burglaries.

"We found that 75 percent of our burglaries to vehicles would be prevented if people would just simply lock their car door," he said.

Other approaches are more sophisticated. He said the Elgin Police Department more frequently is using what is called "predictive policing," identifying where a crime is going to occur based on past patterns. He said the department is able to look at years of data and examine all factors in a crime, down to weather conditions and the occurrence of holidays.

However, he emphasized that arrests alone are not going to provide the solution. Rather, it takes people getting involved in others' lives and being positive role models.

The importance of role models also was stressed by Ricardo Garza, Renz Addiction Counseling Center's prevention coordinator.

"I am very concerned about my community," he said.

While there are many resources available to those who need them, Garza said either the community is not adequately informed of them or taking advantage of them is not a priority.

The first thing students want, he said, is peer acceptance. Unfortunately, many are finding acceptance in gangs "going in a negative direction."

"I work with a lot of youth within the school district within the community, and it's very disappointing to see that they want to go to school, they have positive ideas ...(but) they don't have somebody to support them," he said.

Other speakers focused on other community needs, including care for the mentally ill and the homeless.

Gretchen Vapnar, executive director of the Community Crisis Center in Elgin, which provides among its services emergency temporary shelter for women and children homeless due to domestic violence or financial need, said there is a need for more affordable housing.

"We have a growing number in our shelter of women 60 years old and older, alone, perhaps dealing with illness, perhaps some slight disability, very little job history and very little job training," she said. "They need a place to live."

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