Crime in Galesburg
by Mike Kroll
It is commonly believed that crime is on the increase, that our persons and our belongings are less safe today than in the past. However, data collected annually by the FBI tells a different story, both locally and nationally. Nationally the FBI reports that between 2006-2007 property crime decreased 1.4 percent and violent crime decreased 0.7 percent. The 10-year national trend (comparing 2007 with 1998) presented a 10.1 percent drop in property crime and a 37.2 percent decrease in violent crime.
And local trends in Galesburg tell pretty much the same story according to data provided by Galesburg Police on reported crimes over the last 38 years. The general local trend is a decrease in crime, in many cases significantly so. However, the number of police calls is up reflecting an increasing incidence of minor or petty crimes being reported. The Galesburg police do not maintain readily available data on the numbers of such minor crimes and as city officials have recently directed an increasing emphasis on such offenses making time comparisons difficult if not meaningless on such offenses and they are not covered here.
One aspect of the relatively low incidence of many reported crimes is that a change of only one or two incidents can skew trend data in murders, for example. To combat misinterpretation we have grouped Galesburg crime data into decade summaries covering the past 38 years, the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000-2007. In each grouping the average number of reported incidents of each offense category is shown in the accompanying table along with the 38 year mean and the highest and lowest annual numbers.
The decrease in criminal activity is particularly true with regard to property crimes. For example, over the past 38 years (1970-2007) Galesburg has seen an average of 357 burglaries per year but between 2000-2007 we have averaged only 272 burglaries annually. The local peak year for burglaries was 1981 when 701 burglaries were reported to Galesburg police. Theft or larceny is also down as is motor vehicle theft. The crime of burglary from a motor vehicle was not separately tracked before 1991 but it too is down. Interestingly, arson is also down but it has only been tracked separately since 1980, coincidently when it hit its peak locally. Note that while Theft merely involves stealing someone else's property Burglary requires that the thief break into a building or vehicle to accomplish the theft.
In violent crime we have actually seen a significant increase in Aggravated Battery. Over the last eight years Galesburg averaged nearly 97 Aggravated Batteries annually compared to a 38 year average of only 56 with a whooping 141 such reports in 2004. Also up slightly is Aggravated Assault, a category only tracked separately since 1991. These are “aggravated” because a weapon of some kind was involved as opposed to a fist fight between two unarmed persons which is considered a far less serious crime. The difference between “assault” and “battery” is how far the incident escalates. “Assault” is the treat to injure or harm while actually carrying out that threat and striking the victim converts the offense into “battery.”
While this year saw an unusually high profile murder in Galesburg that crime is a comparative rarity, as it should be. Between 2000-2007 we experienced an average of less than one murder annually while over the past 38 years the average was 1.24 murders per year. That overall average reflects the peak of murders in 1993 when seven people were killed. During the past eight years half had no murders at all while over the past 38 years 16 years were murder-free in Galesburg.
Robbery, or stealing from a person using threat of force, has been relatively stable over time and slightly down the past eight years. Galesburg's peak year for robberies was 1975 when 41 were reported, nearly twice the 38 year average. Given the troubled local economy is is somewhat of a surprise that burglary, theft and robbery haven't seen a increase and all were higher during the 1980s after the closure of OMC and Galesburg Mental Health.
Another violent crime that is unfortunately trending upward is criminal sexual assault. Between 1990-2007 we averaged almost 16 incidents per year, twice the rate during the 1980s and four times the reported incidence of the 1970s. It is unclear whether rape is that much more common or whether this reflects a combination of higher likelihood of reporting such crimes or of them being properly classified as sexual assaults rather than simple assaults.
The data also does not include most domestic abuse cases that typically do not get reported as felonies but rather misdemeanors or are not reported at all. Significant amounts of local police time is devoted to less serious crimes that are not included in this report, including many comparatively trivial matters. But overall crime in Galesburg does not appear to be nearly the problem that many perceive it to be and this data certainly does not support increasing the number of Galesburg Police officers as some city council members have suggested.