While Chicago battles violence, Aurora claims zero murders - FOX 10 News | fox10phoenix.com

While Chicago battles violence, Aurora claims zero murders in 2012

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Kids playing in Aurora's parks is something you might not have seen a few years ago when the city was overrun with street gangs committing murders.

Resident and father Enrique Ruiz says he never felt comfortable having his kids run free and play on the streets.

"I wouldn't tell you, like before it was real bad. It was pretty bad," Ruiz says.

Police chief Greg Thomas remembers working the streets when Aurora averaged hundreds of shootings and sixteen homicides every year.

"You know, I remember going to call after call, shooting after shooting, and they were really only Band-Aid approaches when you are going there and collecting evidence as fast as you can because you needed to get to the next call," Thomas explains.

So just how did things get turned around? Enrique Ruiz, once a gang member himself, says having a family with 11 and 8-year-olds has helped him stay straight.

"I used to be involved in that and then it's like you say, you get older, you get wiser, you know," Ruiz says.

City leaders also credit Aurora's residents for saying "enough was enough."

"I think people really got tired of the violence and the gangs and the drugs in their neighborhoods," Thomas believes. "We started having community group meetings and a lot of people came out."

People like Theresa Shoemaker. Shoemaker runs "communities in schools," which helps reduce crime by keeping youngsters off the streets, in after school and summer programs.

"The idea was to keep kids busy between three and six, because our police claim that's the time they really start getting in trouble," says Shoemaker.

By the time kids like these got to high school, there were programs like Junior ROTC to help keep them out of trouble. Finally, the number of killings started to decline.

To illustrate how the number of homicides in Aurora has changed, we decided to use some of Aurora's children. Back in the year 2002, there were 26 homicides in Aurora. By the year 2007, they were down to just 12 homicides in Aurora and by the year 2010, there were just four homicides in Aurora. Then, by the year 2012, the number was down to zero.

There have been two homicides this year, but it wasn't just community groups taking aim at gangs. Kane County States Attorney Joe McMahon says prosecutors began filing civil lawsuits against known gang members, to prohibit them from associating with other gang members, or hanging out in certain neighborhoods.

"Many have modified their behavior, and again that's the goal, to get them to change that behavior," McMahon says.

The feds also started working Aurora's gang cases, meaning convictions carried stiffer sentences. So could any of the lessons learned here help in Chicago?

"I think it's really relationships with kids, and that positive role model that teachers and other after school people have with the child," Shoemaker tells FOX 32.

"You know, Chicago is huge. 2.6 million, I believe. We are about 200,000. So I think when you look at the relationship that they have, obviously they have bigger issue just by sheer population," Thomas adds.

McMahon says the lesson is to be proactive when you can.

"This is one way to take the fight to the gang members before they engage in criminal behavior," he says.

The chief says it's funny how things have changed. At community meetings that once focused on gangs and drugs, now he hears about parking and noise. He's not complaining.

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