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updated: 1/30/2014 10:46 AM

Elgin police: crime down, focus on youth

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As serious crime in Elgin continues to decrease, police say this year they will focus on positively engaging youth to prevent future crimes.

There were 2,146 serious crimes in Elgin last year, a 6 percent decrease from 2012 and the lowest number since 1972, Elgin Police Chief Jeff Swoboda said Wednesday night. By comparison, 1989 saw 4,905 serious crimes, the city's all-time high.

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Crime in Elgin has decreased steadily since 2007.

"Our (crime rate) is consistently on a downward trend. We believe we have the strategies in place and they're working," Swoboda said.

"We are pleased, but we are by no means satisfied."

Arrests were made in two of three murders that took place last year in Elgin. The gang-related murder of Alexis Huerta remains unsolved, police said. There were three murders in 2012, including a baby victim of child abuse, and five in 2011.

Gang-related crime is at a 10-year low, even if public perception might be different, Swoboda said. "We no longer live in a place where certain corners are controlled by gang members, and that is a good thing," he said.

The police gang unit has made great strides in establishing relationships with gang members, who in turn are more comfortable sharing information, Cmdr. Ana Lalley said.

Also, the gang unit has doubled its home visits for at-risk youth, she said.

"A lot of it is our education effort toward parents," she said.

There are now more gang members in their 30s, rather than in their teens, she added.

This year, police will focus on engaging youth early and making sure police officers are positive role models, Swoboda said. That includes expanding police-lead summer youth programs, as well as following up with families after youths are arrested, Swoboda said.

"When kids are arrested, we will follow up with every single one of their parents, weeks or months later, to see if there are more problems with the kids," he said.

Police also will start tracking data about its positive interactions with youth, he said.

Assault and arson were the only two categories that had any significant increase since 2012.

There were 42 assaults in 2013, seven more than the previous year. "I don't know that we necessarily know why," Swoboda said. "We didn't have a rash of them at a certain place."

Nine of last year's 14 arson cases were garbage can fires over the summer; the others involved vehicles, a TV and a clothing bin, police said. There were 10 cases of arson in 2012.

All but one of the 56 incidents of sexual assault in Elgin -- a 13 percent decrease since 2012 -- involved assailants known to the victims, Swoboda said. In one case, the victim and the assailant attended the same party.

Robberies and burglaries to motor vehicles decreased by about 20 percent from 2012 to 2013.

Elgin has been using predictive policing software -- which pinpoints where crime is most likely to occur -- since March, focusing especially on burglaries to motor vehicles, Deputy Chief Bill Wolf said.

Most crimes take place in the downtown and vicinity area, as well as areas with high-density rental buildings, Wolf said.

About four months ago, a neighborhood officer was assigned to Mulberry Court because of its high crime rate, and that has had positive effects, Lalley said.

Police encouraged residents to lock their vehicles, homes and garages, and register their valuables' serial numbers through the LeadsOnline program on the department's website.

Crime: Assault, arson only categories with significant increases

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