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State crime rate continues two-decade decline
By Ted Cox | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 10/27/2009 4:24 PM | Updated: 10/27/2009 6:12 PM

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Crime in Illinois continued a steady two-decade decline last year, reported the Illinois State Police in its annual crime-rate index released today.

While the crime rate was up slightly in suburban Cook County, it was mostly in crimes against property and not violent crime. The crime rate dropped in the collar counties of DuPage, Lake, McHenry and Will.

The crime-rate index monitors four categories of violent crimes - murder, robbery, assault and sexual assault - and four crimes against property: burglary, theft, auto theft and arson.

Statewide, arson was down almost 10 percent from 2007 to 2008, the largest annual decrease in any of the eight categories over the last five years.

Murders were up 5 percent, but that returned it to levels in 2005 and 2006 after a one-year drop in 2007.

Since reaching a peak in 1991, the state's crime-rate index monitoring all eight categories has shown a steady decline and dropped again by 0.2 percent in 2008.

Violent crime was down across the board in suburban Cook County last year, but an 8.5 percent increase in burglaries led to a nearly 1 percent increase overall crimes.

Murder was down more than a third in the collar counties, from 59 in 2007 to 39 in 2008, while arson was down almost 20 percent and motor-vehicle thefts were down 14.3 percent. A slight increase in burglaries held the overall drop in the counties' crime index to 3.3 percent, still more than the statewide decline. Each county's crime index dropped overall.

Still, there were pockets of concern. Arlington Heights suffered an 11 percent increase, most of it in robbery and theft, and the overall index was up 10.5 percent in Mount Prospect, 5.9 percent in Rolling Meadows and 5.5 percent in Schaumburg.

Arlington Heights Chief Jerry Mourning pointed to how most of the increase locally was in thefts and car thefts. "That's a national trend," he said. Yet, he added that, thanks to some key arrests, public education and citizen involvement, those figures were down 26 percent for the first nine months of this year compared with the same time frame last year. "That's a huge drop," he said.

Rosemont saw a 22.4 percent decline last year, Prospect Heights an 18 percent decline and Wheeling a 10.8 percent decline.

"We put a lot of emphasis on officers conducting patrols," said Rosemont Sgt. Keith Kania. He said the last couple of years they've taken a more strategic approach with "saturation patrols" in identified problem areas, with noticeable results.

Only sexual assault and burglary increased in DuPage County, with Bolingbrook seeing an overall 11.1 percent drop in crime and Wheaton a 10.9 percent drop.

"We're very pleased," said Wheaton Deputy Chief Thomas Meloni. He too credited citizen involvement and reporting along with good police work. "The quality of life in the community is outstanding," he added, "and we intend to keep it that way."

The same went for Lake County, with Mundelein seeing a 16.2 percent drop and Waukegan 12.2 percent, although the crime index rose 18.8 percent in Grayslake and 15.9 percent in Gurnee.

Mundelein Chief Ray Rose likewise credited "non-traditional" methods such as community policing and outreach programs. "I really and truly believe that does help us," he said, adding that "the trends right now are continuing" through this year.

Only car thefts rose in McHenry County, where crimes dropped 19.4 percent in Cary and 14 percent in Crystal Lake, although they more than tripled in tiny Richmond thanks to a spree of burglaries and thefts.

The crime index was up 3.1 percent in Chicago, but down 2.2 percent over the rest of the state.