The 250 residents who turned out on a bitterly cold morning for a crime prevention meeting at Evanston Township High School were told today that preliminary figures show Evanston’s index crime rate dropped another 8 percent last year.

The Rev. Michael Pfleger

The Rev. Michael Pfleger

But residents were in a mood to organize to try to drive the rate even lower.

The keynote speaker, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina’s Church on Chicago’s South Side, urged residents to take control of their community.

“Drug dealers are reaching out to our children every day,” he said, “we need to reach out to them as well.”

Father Pfleger said he’s organized many community groups to fight crime. He said in one instance 30 residents of a block showed up for a meeting — but only five people — the youngest one 72 years old — agreed to sit in their yards to watch the dealers.

“‘The rest of you all go home, you’re useless,'” he recalled saying to the group, and added that within three days of starting the neighborhood watch, the senior citizens had cleaned up the drug activity on the block.

“We’ve gotta get over the divisions that go on,” he said, “and form partnership with government  and law enforcement, with parents and children, with businesses and the parks.”

“Churches have to open their doors,” Father Pfleger said. He said some ministers tell him their congregations can’t be more active in the community around the church because their members don’t live there. “Then go move your church to where the members are,” he said.

“If every church offered just one program for youths after school, kids wouldn’t know which one to go to, there’d be so many.”

“After you pray, we’ve got to get up off our kness and do something.”

Interim Chief Dennis Nilsson

Interim Police Chief Dennis Nilsson said preliminary figures for 2006 show that number of major crimes tracked in FBI statistics fell 8 percent in Evanston. That continues a downward trend that began after crime in the city peaked in 1997.

Evanston’s index crime rate in 2006 was only about 38 percent as high as the 7,669 incidents recorded in 1997.

Index crimes include four violent crimes — murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault and battery — plus four property crimes — burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.

Two index crimes rose last year — robberies were up 11 percent to 120 incidents and burglaries increased 37 percent to 778 incidents. But thefts declined 20 percent to 1816 incidents — more than outweighing the increases in the other two categories.

Chief Nilsson noted that many other crimes, including simple battery and simple assault, deceptive practices, criminal damage to property and drug, liquor, vice and weapons violations aren’t included in the index crimes tally.

He said Evanston’s total count of reported and verified crimes last year was about 8,800. He said that number has also varied over time but has generally declined dramatically in recent years.

But the chief added that “any crime is too much” and quoted the humorist Will Rodgers as saying, “even if you’re on the right track, if you stand still, you’ll still get run over.”

He said Evanston police have had a community partnership program since the 1980s but want to “jump start it again” to drive crime rates even lower.

After the speeches in the auditorium the session moved across the hall to a cafeteria where residents gathered in small groups around tables to discuss ideas for combatting crime in the city.

One of many idea lists

They generated dozens of lists of ideas for programs that could fight crime, or help young people avoid turning to a life of crime and then gathered again to review those lists.

Residents listen to reports from moderators of what ideas the different table groups came up with.

Related story

Officials at meeting mum on murder – Feb. 4, 2007

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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2 Comments

  1. Crime in Evanston -fact versus fiction!
    Bill – I found one statement of Dr. Pfleger very interesting that is they place a reward on those who commit criminals in thier neighborhoods to get rid of the criminals in chicago.

    My intial thought about this meeting was he would rate social services for criminals higher than honestly just dealing with them.

    My blog states my views on crime. The meeting of the groups afterwards was less interesting and more to my feelings about the communities lack of understanding about the crime problem here.

    Most of the suggestions coming out of the break out groups were for more youth services – the city of Evanston and the schools have spent millions of dollars here with very mixed results.

    In my view the city created this format not to deal with the real crime issues here, that is the small and dangerous criminal population the city needs to remove. The chief of police suggested about 3% of the population is involved in criminal activity. That would be over 2,000 people – clearly that number is high in my mind – we probably have several hundred we need to focus on.

    Clearly no one in the city whats to inform the public about the real problem – since if you have dangerous criminals in town who would want to move here?

    Bill interestingly enough one public official who I know has a very good understanding of the crime problem in this community ( and I respect) – told me the meeting clearly was waste.

    I am certain the usually cast of characters went away from the meeting thinking they had accomplished something.

  2. Crime Meeting
    I was not at the crime meeting, but I felt that we as Evanstonians do not want the word to get out about our crime problem. As a Realtor, I worry about the effect on the overall desirability for homeowners and buyers.

    I feel that the statistics used to describe our crime problem does not take into account the utter randomness and the the increasing number of simple battery cases and muggings that produce little benefit to the mugger(s), other than whatever feeling they get from performing a ‘beat-down’. It seems like more and more youth are involved in these types of crimes or the reporting method has changed to exhibit a problem that has long existed. Additionally, the number of locations and areas where this type of acctivity occurs seems to be growing.

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