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TV6 Investigates: Violent crime on the rise in Galesburg

Published: Apr. 1, 2021 at 7:56 PM CDT
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GALESBURG, Illinois (KWQC) - It started out two hours after midnight on January 1st, 2021, when shots rang out on Monroe Street, sending four people to the hospital.

Three days later, 26-year-old Rachel Likes was shot and killed in her car.

On January 6th, 17-year-old Darryl Keller died of a gunshot wound after police say he attempted to burglarize the Galesburg Guns ‘N’ Ammo store with a group of teens.

18 days later, on January 23, 7-year-old Willow Banks was stabbed to death in her home on McKnight Street. Her mother has been charged with her death.

The next day, 60-year-old Katrina Hainline died in her Pine Street home after police say it was intentionally set on fire.

For Galesburg, a community of just over 30,500 people, the first two months of 2021 was a shocking reflection of a national trend.

“I think the spike in crime, particularly homicides, at the beginning of the year was a bit of an anomaly,” said Galesburg Chief of Police Russell Idle.

We have experienced a lot of societal shifts in the past year due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Stressors like quarantine, job loss and financial insecurities have led to more mental health issues, substance abuse and domestic problems.

All of these stressors have caused outbursts of behavior in people that we might not see under normal circumstances.

“People are desperate and without jobs, and having a hard time making it,” said John Collopy, a resident of Galesburg.

NPR states that at the end of last year, larger U.S. cities like Chicago had homicide rates up by 50 percent, while Los Angeles was up by 30 percent and New York City by 40 percent. According to the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice, homicide rates in 2020 were 30 percent higher across 34 U.S. cities in total than in 2019.

Galesburg is no exception to what we have been seeing across the map.

“It goes to show you that smaller communities are not immune to the pressures you’re seeing in larger communities,” said Karlin.

The people of Galesburg have noticed the recent uptick in crime, and say they wonder what will happen next, with lifelong resident Brett Charles telling TV6, “it’s kind of scary.”

As of March 8, there have been six gunfire incidents, two arsons and four sexual assaults in Galesburg. Police say that the most disturbing trend, however, is homicide.

There have been eight homicides in Galesburg in the past five years. Four of those homicides occurred in 2021. To put that into perspective, one homicide happened in 2016. Another happened in 2018. Two were in 2020. What will happen for the rest of 2021?

“With the COVID pandemic, it seems like the breaks are off,” stated Karlin.

Galesburg city officials seem certain that the pandemic is mostly to blame for the rise in violent crimes, with District Attorney Karlin stating, “I think you will see violent crime starting to go back down.”

However, there are other factors that have led us down this path. “There are certainly more guns out there,” said Chief Idle, “mostly related to drugs.”

Officials say that a recent influx in methamphetamine use has led to the increase of illegal gun sales, both of which must be addressed in order for other trends to go down. According to the District Attorney’s office, tougher sentencing on gun crimes will result in fewer incidents.

“We don’t plea bargain gun cases,” said Karlin, “if there is a gun case involved, you’re going to prison. Period.”

According to Chief Idle, there are also factors beyond the control of law and justice that need to play in aw well.

“From a societal standpoint, I think that’s an area that involves much larger than just the police,” said Idle, “it involves addiction, mental health, the pandemic, poverty, education and family structure.”

Law enforcement says that they are trying their best, however, with the small part they play in order to help make the city a better place.

“We are trying to identify and apprehend the people who are using and possessing illegal weapons,” said Idle.

Despite the number of homicides Galesburg has already experienced this year, police say it is still safe and want to emphasize to the community that right now there is no cause for concern.

“We always want community members to be vigilant, to pay attention,” Chief Idle said, “but I also want community members to know Galesburg is a safe community to live.”

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