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Olson: Perception and reality not same on crime

People have been fascinated by crime stories for as long as we’ve had laws.

The stories are seldom happy, and often even the victims aren’t what you would call “innocent.” It’s a common refrain among prosecutors to say that the victim of a murder might not have been the finest citizen, “but he didn’t deserve to die.”

Murders are rare in DeKalb County.

Yet people seem to fixate on crime, particularly in DeKalb. In a recent interview, new Northern Illinois University Police Chief Thomas Phillips said that people in DeKalb seem to have an inflated fear of crime.

“There’s always going to be a concern over crime, but there’s a significant difference between a fear of crime and actual crime,” Phillips told Daily Chronicle News Editor Jillian Duchnowski. “Having lived in Chicago for the last two decades, there’s definitely a higher crime rate out there and a higher probability of being victimized by crime out there. So I noticed coming out here that the fear of crime doesn’t correlate with the actual crime rate.”

Generally speaking, I agree. But 2012 crime statistics compiled by the FBI show people aren’t exactly imagining things, either.

The FBI data – which you can find online at – includes 17 Illinois towns with populations between 40,000 and 55,000. That includes DeKalb at about 43,000, as well as communities in suburban Chicago such as Lombard, Carol Stream and Hoffman Estates, university towns in Urbana and Normal, and river burgs such as Quincy and Moline.

In 2012, DeKalb topped the list in violent crime among those towns, with 196 reported incidents. It also was tops in rape reports with 34, and arson reports with 21. The city was near the top of the list in theft and property crime, too.

Before you start planning to move to Rochelle or Polo, though, consider a couple of things the numbers don’t say.

For one, most Illinois cities in the 40,000 to 55,000 range are not the “big town” in their immediate area.

Urbana is Champaign’s smaller twin; Normal is Bloomington’s. Moline is one of four smaller cities around much larger Davenport, Iowa. Chicago’s suburbs all kind of run together, they have arbitrary boundaries, and the big city isn’t far.

Only DeKalb and Quincy are the major cities in their immediate area. Quincy is a town of about 40,000 that’s 130 miles north of St. Louis.

Those also happen to be the two towns with the most comparable crime numbers.

Quincy was No. 2 in the population range in violent crime and in rape, and not by a statistically significant amount. The two cities reported exactly the same number of property crimes, 1,304.

There also were more cases of aggravated assault in Quincy (146) than in DeKalb (134) in 2012, according to the FBI data.

The college in Quincy is Quincy University, a Catholic Franciscan Division II school with enrollment of about 1,250. It’s probably not a big party school.

Are Quincy and DeKalb cities beset by crime? Probably not. The smaller community of Danville, with 33,000 people and a medium-security men’s prison, reported far more crimes of most every kind in 2012 than either of the two.

What it more likely means is that if you’re living in DeKalb County or in Adams County, and you’re a criminal, chances are you’re going to be doing business in DeKalb or Quincy because those are the nearby places with the greatest concentration of people.

Awareness is good: The Daily Chronicle reports on local crimes because it’s information people need to know about their community.

We try not to sensationalize stories, but we don’t try to bore you with them, either. Truth is, stories about crime, especially crimes where people use guns, don’t need a lot of sensationalizing – people want to read them.

On one hand, it’s important that people are aware that crime does happen and they should take steps to protect themselves. Walking home alone and intoxicated late at night in certain areas is not a good idea. Neither is leaving your car unlocked in your driveway, or leaving the garage door open overnight, or other careless actions that leave your belongings vulnerable.

Create an opportunity for someone to steal from you or rob you, and eventually someone will.

For people who are concerned about staying safe, DeKalb Police offer a range of safety tips on their website,

On the other hand, if you don’t break the law or associate with people who do, chances are good no one’s going to shoot at you around here. 

If you’re thinking of stealing several ounces of marijuana from your drug-dealing associates, though, you should stop and think things through, Smoky.

The dream matchup: The organizers of the IHSA Destination DeKalb committee will be welcoming all 16 teams that win today’s semifinal football games.

I doubt they would ever express any kind of rooting interest, but there’s one matchup I’m sure they would love to have: Sycamore vs. Washington in the Class 5A state championship game.

Both teams are underdogs. Our hometown Sycamore Spartans are 12-0 and facing – who else? – Montini at 1 p.m. today at Duffy Memorial Stadium in Lombard.

This is Sycamore’s best team since the 1970s, and they might be underdogs, but they believe, as well they should. They were oh-so-close to taking down the Broncos last year, and there’s no reason to think they’ll be intimidated today. 

Besides, Montini has won four state titles in a row. It’s someone else’s turn.

We’ll have complete print and video coverage of that game today online at our DC Preps site,

Meanwhile, the town of Washington, which was devastated by a tornado last Sunday, is rallying behind their team as they recover and rebuild after the storm. Their inspirational story is garnering national attention and the hype will only increase if they beat Sacred Heart at 1 p.m. Saturday in Springfield – but Sacred Heart is the No. 1 seed in their half of the playoff bracket.

A matchup of a sentimental favorite against a hometown team playing for its first state title would be a must-see. Let’s see what develops.

And go Spartans.

No matter what: We’re going to be bringing you coverage of the inaugural state football championships at Huskie Stadium, including a 28-page special section about the event and the games you’ll want to see.

Look for it in Thursday’s edition of the Daily Chronicle.

Thanks: And Happy Thanksgiving/Happy Hanukkah to all.

Enjoy your celebration and your holiday shopping, whenever you choose to do it.

Eric Olson is editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email, and follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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