In the aftermath of a murder Friday night in Naperville, I wanted to issue a reminder about crime in Naperville before anyone jumps to any conclusions about violence in the suburb. Naperville is a safe place:
Naperville is by far the safest city of its size in Illinois.
The 2010 crime statistics released by the FBI Monday show that the level of crime in Naperville is far lower than is typical for Illinois’ largest cities.
For every 10,000 residents in the city, there were about 151 property crimes in Naperville, compared to 203 in Elgin and 216 in Aurora…
Rockford and Springfield reported by far the highest crime rates among the state’s largest towns. For every 10,000 Naperville residents, 9 violent crimes were reported. Elgin (33), Aurora (36) and Joliet (36) had the next best rates.
Violent crime is rare in Naperville although not unheard of. The city likes to trumpet the low crime rate. Notice how it is part of the one paragraph lead-in to the “Welcome to Naperville” video on the city’s website:
Located 28 miles west of Chicago, Naperville, Ill., is home to approximately 145,000 people. This vibrant, thriving city consistently ranks as a top community in the nation in which to live, raise children and retire. The city is home to acclaimed public and parochial schools, the best public library system in the country, an array of healthcare options and an exceptionally low crime rate. Naperville has ready access to a variety of public transportation, housing and employment options. The city’s diversified employer base features high technology firms, retailers and factories, as well as small and home-based businesses. Residents also enjoy world-class parks, diverse worship options, the opportunity to serve on several city boards and commissions, a thriving downtown shopping and dining area, a renowned living history museum known as Naper Settlement and an active civic community.
Not just a “low crime rate” but an “exceptionally low crime rate.” This pitch is made by many people beyond City Hall.
Still, a well-regarded suburb like Naperville must always be wary of perceptions. Murders in your downtown entertainment district are not the kind of news that you want. Even if crime rates are low, perceptions can change quickly and crime is one of those factors that pushes suburbanites into other communities. See this commentary from one of the Naperville high schools:
As the population rises within Naperville so do the crime rates. Naperville is known as one of the safest cities to live and raise a family in. The town claims to have a protected and secure profile, though lately there have been signs of increasing crime rates.
Naperville police have found that burglaries rose nearly thirty percent since last year while robberies climbed nearly thirty-five percent. Although property crime rates are on the rise, violent crime has decreased from the past few years. A few months ago, senior Stephy Drago had a few friends over at night. There was about eight cars lined up in front of the house and two of the cars were broken into. A paycheck and an IPod were stolen from one car and money from the other…
Even though property crime continues to expand, recently the Naperville Police Department has let go of six police officers in late November due to a budget deficit. Hundreds of residents protested through Downtown Naperville to the outside of City Hall objecting the layoffs of these officers…
Still, proper precautions should be taken such as hiding important valuables if left in a car or locking a garage door at night.
Even though the article says Naperville has low crime rates, the perception is that crime is always just lurking around the corner. Without the “right” number of police, the safety of the town could quickly disappear. Since Naperville is such a large suburb, I wonder if it is easier for people to make the association between crime rates and the big city, making Naperville into a different kind of place. Perhaps this all says more about how Americans think about crime in general: even in the nicest places, the perceived risk of crime is up.
We shall see what happens: I assume the city will go out of its way to assure residents that this downtown incident is an isolated one and not in the character of the community. On the other hand, residents and others might start to wonder if this sort of news will become “normal.” Managing these perceptions and expectations will be important as Naperville moves forward.