A discussion of Brookfield’s crime rate and strategies for reducing crime in the village became a political black hole during the Board of Trustees meeting Jan. 10. The topic resulted in almost no concrete talk about the subject, but was instead used as a way for rival village presidential candidates to embarrass each other.

Trustee Michael Garvey, who is running as a PEP Party candidate for village president in April, asked that the subject of Brookfield’s rising crime rate be included on the Committee of the Whole agenda.

His request came with a packet of materials, including a news story listing crime rate data from Brookfield and surrounding communities. Garvey also noted that while most neighboring communities were seeing a decrease in the rate of reportable crimes, Brookfield’s 2003 rate had risen 24.3 percent, according to a news article that appeared in July in the Desplaines Valley News. The news story cited numbers published by the Illinois State Police for their annual report.

But, after Garvey introduced the topic to the board and summarized possible discussion areas, Village President Bill Russ, who is running against Garvey in April, pounced on his opponent. In a prepared statement over two pages long, Russ ripped Garvey’s introduction of crime as politically motivated.

“I am concerned about the timeliness of your request to discuss this issue, given the fact the article was written in July of 2004,” Russ said. “Why didn’t you bring this up last summer or even in the fall of last year? Why did you wait to bring it up a few months before the upcoming election?

“I am concerned you are attempting to use valuable village board time and resources for political reasons.”

Russ further stated that the Desplaines Valley News article contained flawed information. Russ said that after he got Garvey’s agenda request, he had Police Chief Thomas Schoenfeld check into the crime numbers.

What Schoenfeld learned, Russ said, was that the 2003 figures “had been improperly calculated by the Records Department” and that crime was “down in the Village of Brookfield.”

Garvey responded that he was merely trying to offer up topics for discussion based on the crime figures available, and that Russ’ response was a political attack against him.

“This is exactly what’s wrong with this [village board],” Garvey said. “You try to bring something up and you get attacked personally. …

“How was I to be aware [of the revised 2003 crime numbers]?” Garvey asked. “And when you figured it out, you had time for a press release, but didn’t give me the courtesy of a call. Why was that not done? And you talk about being political.”

Revised numbers not new
Although the revised 2003 crime numbers were presented as a new finding, they actually are nearly a year old. The Landmark received the same revised numbers from former Police Chief Arthur Kuncl, and published a story based on those numbers in March of 2004.

And while the revised numbers show that the number of reportable crimes did not increase by 24 percent, the number did increase overall by almost 14 percent. As reported at that time, while aggravated assault/battery fell dramatically and burglary and criminal sexual assault dropped slightly, theft was up sharply. Auto theft, arson and robbery also increased slightly.

What the numbers bear out is that while violent crime in Brookfield remains low, property crime rose from 2002 to 2003. The 2003 numbers also highlighted an increases in drug-related arrests, which Kuncl attributed to more vigilance during traffic stops.

What a glance at the crime numbers show is that the rate has fluctuated each year since 2000. In 2000, according to the numbers Russ provided at the meeting, the total number of reportable crimes was 454. In 2001, that number jumped to 579. In 2002, it went back down to 497 before jumping back up to 565 in 2003.

The numbers also show that the biggest increase since 2000 has been in the number of thefts reported in Brookfield. In 2000, 176 thefts were reported. That number has steadily risen through 2003, when thefts numbered 315, a 79-percent increase.

The number that has fluctuated the most from year to year is aggravated assault/battery, which, from 2000 to 2003 jumped from 40 to 89 to 48 to 11. In March of 2004, Kuncl suggested that number varied on the number of people pressing charges in domestic violence cases.

The number of robberies, burglaries, auto thefts and criminal sexual assaults have remained relatively stable from year to year from 2000-03.

2004 stats show big drops
Although 2003’s numbers were not available until the end of March 2004, Russ submitted preliminary 2004 crime numbers on Jan. 10. According to the report supplied to the village board, the number of reportable crimes was down to 414 in 2004, a drop of nearly 27 percent.

The biggest declines were seen in the numbers of burglaries (74 in 2004 vs. 192 in 2003) and motor vehicle thefts (16 in 2004 vs. 31 in 2003). Thefts fell from 315 to 296, arson dropped from 5 to 3 and robberies fell from 8 to 5. Criminal sexual assault rose slightly from 3 to 4, while aggravated assault climbed from 11 to 16.