As the FBI released its national crime statistics this week, local police officials say the figures, while useful, may not paint the most accurate picture of what’s happening in their towns.
Through its Uniform Crime Reporting program, the bureau collects information on crimes – both violent crimes and property crimes – reported by law enforcement agencies. Violent offenses tracked are murder, motor vehicle theft, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Property crimes include burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson.
Each year, the FBI compiles an exhaustive report searchable by region, state, county and town. A total of 18,290 city, county, state, university and college, tribal and federal agencies participated in the Uniform Crime Reporting program in 2012, the bureau says.
The most current data is for crimes that occurred in 2012.
As McHenry County’s most populous municipality, Crystal Lake also had the highest crime rate, followed by Woodstock and McHenry.
Still, at a rate of 15.2 crimes per every 10,000 residents, the crime rate in Crystal Lake is low when compared with larger major metropolitan areas.
Most of Crystal Lake’s crimes are property related, Police Cmdr. Dan Dziewior said, and the FBI statistics reflect that. In 2011, Crystal Lake logged 651 property crime offenses, and 804 in 2012. Violent crimes remained relatively flat from the previous year at just over 60 offenses reported.
Property crimes have always kept Crystal Lake cops busy, though officials say they’ve seen those numbers fall over the past decade, despite the reported increase the FBI report noted.
“I don’t think my guys are any busier than they have been before,” Dziewior said. “Predominantly it’s property crimes. If you leave it lying around, somebody that it doesn’t belong to will pick it up and walk off with it.”
Algonquin police Chief Russell Laine pointed to an engaged community as a reason for bringing its 49 violent crime reports in 2011 down to 29 in 2012.
“The police certainly cannot do it alone,” Laine said. “To keep our community safe, we need citizen participation. They need to let us know when you see something amiss.”
Cary posted the largest across-the-board drops in crime. Its violent crimes went from 33 reported offenses in 2011 to just eight the next year.
The cause for the year-over-year drop in crime, Cary police Sgt. Mike Roth said, sometimes can come down to nothing more than just plain luck.
“I’m not going to lie to you, it could be fate,” Roth said. “A lot of times you get the same character pulling a lot of these things, and then all of a sudden he moves away. I think it’s a combination of fate and our proactive measures we have in place.”
Proactive tools often mean more visibility in high-crime areas.
It’s important to remember what these numbers show, but more importantly, what they don’t, police officials said. There are plenty of variables that mold crime data, including but not limited to economic factors or community makeup.
There also have been changes in how these crimes are reported. The federal government is asking states to implement standard guidelines so all crimes are reported the same way. Illinois has been slow to do so, Crystal Lake’s records supervisor Deb Palmsiano explained. For example, if a neighborhood got hit with a rash of car burglaries, separate police reports are written up for each incident. But the crimes are reported to the feds as one incident under the guidelines.
Even the FBI warns that comparing figures can “lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents.”
“It really doesn’t paint an accurate and absolute picture of what crime is. It’s confusing for us as well,” Dziewior said.
On the Net
To see the FBI’s latest nationwide crime data, and search by town, visit www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2012/crime-in-the-u.s.-2012.