UPDATED: 1/2/2013 – 4:45 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – Good news on the crime front in Illinois’ second largest city.
There were zero murders in Aurora in 2012. That hasn’t happened since 1946.
The last murder in Aurora was in December of 2011. In the 1990s, Aurora averaged one murder per month.
Police Chief Greg Thomas acknowledged he’s surprised there were no murders in Aurora last year. He said it’s the culmination of a long team effort, and the results have been dramatic.
In 1996, Aurora had 357 shootings and 26 murders; last year, there were only 61 shootings, and no murders.
Thomas credited a crackdown on gangs, assisted by federal authorities.
“If you look at about 2005 to 2007, we took about 150 high-ranking gang members, shooters off the streets in Aurora, with help from federal partnerships with the ATF and FBI. I think that was a big contributor,” Thomas said.
Thomas said there are no quick fixes for reducing the number of murders in any community.
He said, in addition to help from the community, and getting kids into after-school programs and the Junior ROTC, there was a lot of work over a long period of time from Aurora police and law enforcement from the state and federal governments.
Thomas said Aurora started focusing in 2005 on the worst of the repeat criminals and getting them locked up in federal prisons. The police department also tried to keep young people from joining gangs through it’s “Knock and Talk” program.
If the police caught wind that a certain young person was trying to become involved in a gang, police would talk to the young person’s parent and inform them of the signs to watch for from their son or daughter.
Rev. Pat McManus, pastor at Kingdom Impact Center, is one of several aurora ministers who held prayer vigils at every murder scene in past years, encouraging neighbors to fight back.
“We’re all working together, doing the same thing, having the same focus to truly see the city turn,” he said.
East Aurora was once the center of much of the city’s gang and drug violence, but in the neighborhoods, and the lively businesses, residents feel the change.
“I believe my kids are in less danger,” one woman said.
“I feel a lot safer,” one man said.
“I think it should get out, you know? Come live in aurora, It’s a safe place,” another man said.
Thomas also credited use of the CompStat system, which uses crime statistics to focus police resources on hot spots of activity. That same system is a key part of Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy’s fight against gangs in Chicago.
Thomas said, in addition to a host of crime-fighting and crime-prevention strategies, luck also played a part in hitting that milestone.