Naperville interim chief: Proactive policing leads to spike in weapon, vehicle violations in first half of 2021
A concerted effort to ramp up proactive policing in Naperville has contributed to a sharp uptick in vehicle offenses and more illegal guns seized so far this year than ever before, interim Chief Jason Arres said.
Those crimes often stem from traffic stops, which have spiked due to increased activity by three specialized units: traffic, special operations and the new strategic response unit launched last summer, he said.
Naperville has reported 670 driving violations -- such as DUIs, driving with a suspended license or fleeing and eluding an officer -- from January through May of 2021, according to crime statistics presented Wednesday by Arres. That's more than five times the number of vehicle offenses in the same time frame last year.
Of the 39 deadly weapons incidents reported in the first half of this year -- up from 10 at this time in 2020 -- 35 involved an illegal firearm found in a car, Arres said. The impact of that police action is often intangible but significant, he said.
"What do you prevent when you take an illegal firearm off the street and out of someone's hands that isn't allowed to have it? You can never measure that. You just don't know what we've stopped," Arres said. "There's a lot that goes into being proactive as a police agency that you can never measure."
Weapon and vehicle cases are Part II crimes, which are considered less serious than those found in the Part I category.
A majority of Naperville's violent crimes have dropped in the first six months of this year, including criminal sexual assault, armed robbery and aggravated assault.
A jump in identity thefts -- more than 1,000 this year -- drove a 50% rise in the city's Part I cases over last year at this time, data shows. But excluding identity thefts, police are reporting a 35% decline in the more serious or violent crimes: 454 so far in 2021, compared to 709 in the first six months of 2020 and 726 in the same time frame in 2019.
"That doesn't mean we haven't been busy," Arres said.
Two shootings earlier this year were solved quickly by officers, he said, as was an arson case that destroyed a martial arts studio. And last month, a man was arrested and charged in the 1972 murder of 15-year-old Julie Hanson, bringing closure to her family and to the officers who had been working the case for decades, the interim chief said.
Police also responded alongside other city departments when the June 20 tornado swept through the community, destroying several houses and damaging hundreds more. For about a week, officers were in the neighborhood all day, every day to protect against burglaries and provide a sense of security, Arres said.
"Criminals will find ways to exploit others' misfortunes, and we aren't going to let that happen," he said. "Not on our watch."
Burglaries to vehicles have dropped from 181 last year to 51 this year, and car thefts have declined from 42 to 27, data shows. That's likely due to increased awareness about the importance of locking car doors, Arres said, noting forced entry was not a factor in at least 85% of those cases.
Police have handled 200 cannabis-related calls so far this year, compared to 239 last year. Though recreational marijuana use by those 21 and older is now permitted under state law, Arres said most violations are related to cannabis that is improperly or illegally obtained, stored or used in vehicles.
The number of total mental health cases is up from 453 last year to 550 this year, data shows.
Increased police awareness, tracking and training could be attributed to the uptick, Arres said, noting 95 -- or 54% -- of the department's 177 sworn officers have undergone crisis intervention training. Another 20 officers are expected to complete the certification this week.