Increases in gang violence and domestic abuse may be responsible for last year’s 6 percent increase in violent crime, Evanston Police Chief Richard Eddington says.

Despite decreases in robberies and criminal sexual assault, an increase in aggravated assault and battery was enough to raise the overall level of violent crimes.

Aggravated assault and battery rose from 127 incidents in 2007 to 164 in 2008 — more than the median of 146.5 for the decade.

Eddington suspects that the increase in the category is due to incidents that he says are beyond the power of police to prevent — namely, gang violence and domestic abuse.

“If we’re having an ongoing gang dispute, they’re not really taken aback or intimidated by our presence, and that’s just the way it is,” he says.

He says that he did not know if there was any reason besides random variance that gang violence may have increased from 2007.

“When gangs decide to have a dust-up, there may be no particular logical reason that we can ascertain,” he says. “They just decide it’s time to go.”

The dismal financial climate may have put more stress on Evanston families, making domestic abuse more common, he says.

“I am terribly concerned that as the economy continues to sour, we will see an uptick on that,” he says.

The police department is investigating gang violence and domestic abuse figures to validate Eddington’s suspicions.

Eddington says the drops seen in other categories are more likely attributable to police work.

He says burglaries, for example, dropped 861 to 638 because the department has put more burglars in jail. If more burglars are in jail, fewer offenses will occur because burglars are more often repeat offenders than perpetrators of other crimes, he says.

Furthermore, the police department has refined how it assigns patrols, he says. The department now reviews crime maps weekly and adjusts its patrols to cover newly troublesome areas.

The rise in thefts from 1,827 to 1,963 is likely due to the national rise in identity theft, he says. Victims more often report identity theft than property theft, he says.

The first half of this year has seen a 23 percent decrease in total crime compared with the first half of last year.

Last year, there were 1,447 crimes from January to the end of June. This year, there were 1,114. The chief says cool weather so far this summer may have contributed to the decline.

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