Major developer on Rockford crime: 'I've never felt so unsafe' - – Rockford’s News Leader

Major developer on Rockford crime: 'I've never felt so unsafe'


A community meeting Tuesday night with Rockford's top law enforcement officials was designed to be a Q & A session with residents on how to make the city's violent crime problem better.

But it turned into a confessional, as one by one, people described how unsafe they feel now including one of the area's most influential businessmen.

"I'm telling you, I've been here since I was 18-years-old, and I've never felt so unsafe," said Sunil Puri, the founder and president of the First Midwest Group.

Puri's powerful real estate development firm is responsible for bringing businesses like Meijer grocery stores and Portillos to the area.

But now he says at least one of his clients is leaving because of the city's crime problem.

"We have a U.S. Cellular, which has had 5 armed robberies at two of their franchises," said Puri.  "They're shutting both of them down.  North Main and State Street by Noodles & Company."

Puri also revealed three men recently tried to barge their way into his daughter's and her mother's Rockford home.  The experience was mortifying for them, said Puri.

"It takes 7, 8, 10 minutes for the police to get there," said Puri.

The meeting was hosted by Alderman Frank Beach didn't start like this.  Each of the four top law enforcement officials was given 15 minutes to talk about the problem.

"I can't help but look at the young offenders that are committing some of our crimes," said Rockford Police Chief Chet Epperson.  

Epperson said young offenders preying on the elderly and domestic violence contribute the most to violent crime in the city.

Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana said he just asked for and received two K9 officers to go out on saturation patrols.  There have been three of them this summer, which focus on removing illegal guns, drugs and known criminals off the streets.

Winnebago County State's Attorney Joe Bruscato said the community should also be thinking long term.

"And of course the long term answer has to be education," said Bruscato.

More than 200 people attended Alderman Beach's quarterly 10th ward meeting that he'd opened to the entire community to attend.  It was designed to let them speak to these high ranking officials.

Charles Pierce the first one to ask a question.  It was directed to Chief Epperson.

"You talk about the young teenagers, 13, 14, 15-years-old carrying guns, but what are we doing as far as a program for these young people," said Pierce.

"Maybe it's time now to have a re-entry program for juveniles like we do adult probation," responded Epperson.

Alderman Ann Thompson Kelly also stepped up to the mic.  She asked the panel to consider spending more of the county's public safety sales tax revenues on programs to keep teens off the streets.

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