Galesburg gun crimes decline; Police, state's attorney have some theories as to why

Samuel Lisec
Galesburg Register-Mail
Samuel Cohen points to a nick in his door frame, where a stray bullet entered and lodged itself. His partner's first concerns were over the safety of their animals.

GALESBURG — Carolyn Ginder and Samuel Cohen were awakened by gunshots Oct. 9. The two had been asleep in the upstairs of their house when a bullet struck the large scenic window of their living room, lodging itself in a door frame and spraying shattered glass inside.

Cohen went downstairs to investigate and Ginder moved to ensure that their dog and three cats were unharmed.

“All I was thinking was, ‘God, man, oh no, I don't know what to do,’” Cohen recalled. “I guess I'll just call the cops, I have to clean up all the glass now.”

The couple moved to their house on the 600 block of South Academy Street in June 2021 and had made complaints to the police before regarding noise from people congregating at night outside the Knox Crest Apartments, where the stray bullet may have traveled from.

They have considered moving, but the couple otherwise enjoy their neighborhood, and they’ve also considered putting up security cameras, but are worried that could paint their house as “a target.” Overall, they feel like something greater should be done by the authorities. 

“There had been noises before but we'd never had a bullet through our house,” Ginder said. “What is it going to take for someone to say, ‘Hey we really need to clean this up?’”

Samuel Cohen and Carolyn Ginder were asleep Oct. 9 when a stray bullet shattered the front window of their house.

In April 2021, Knox County State’s Attorney Jeremy Karlin and Galesburg Police Chief Russel Idle announced the creation of a task force that aimed to curb what had been described as an abnormally high amount of homicides and gun crimes in Galesburg that year.

Data from the Galesburg Police Department shows that the city had 57 documented cases of gun crime in 2021. Of those 57 cases, 16 involved at least one victim and two caused a loss of life. 

More recent data from the Galesburg Police Department shows that gun crime has dropped in 2022, with a total of 18 documented cases as of Nov. 3. That accounts for a nearly 68% drop in document when comparing the first 9 months of 2021 to the same period in 2022. Three of those 18 documented cases have involved victims but none a loss of life.

Karlin said gun crime is still a “significant” problem in the community and it remains the highest priority of his office. But he attributed the drop in cases from 2021 to 2022, in part, to a strategy he’s focused on since he was elected in 2020: opposing probation, as a rule, for all individuals who commit gun crimes. 

“We identify individuals who we believe are responsible for shots fired in the community and we go after them without letting up, without pause,” Karlin said. “We have found, both last year and this year, when we do that, when we go after those groups of people we presume to be primarily responsible for the shots fired, after we put them in jail, after we put them in prison, the frequency of shots fired in the community goes down.”

Dan Hostens, deputy chief of the Galesburg Police Department, said Karlin’s opposition to probation for gun crime cases has “absolutely” helped keep violent offenders off the street. 

Hostens said many factors cause gun crime, he but attributed the drop in cases this year, in part, to several “substantial” arrests the police department made, as well as the department’s usual tactics and investigations which can take time to produce results. 

“We haven't necessarily changed the way we do our job, but we are aggressively investigating these incidents when they happen in an attempt to solve them and make arrests as soon as we can," Hostens said.

Of the Galesburg Police Department’s tools, Hostens said “We can’t do anything without the help from the public.” Intel from witnesses and people from the community, submitted either anonymously through Crime Stoppers or over the phone, helps the department gather probable cause or saturate areas before incidents escalate, Hostens said.

Moving forward, Karlin said he would like to spend the next two years expanding the focus of the state’s attorney’s office from crime prosecution to crime prevention at a larger, societal scale. That means working with pretrial and probation services in the courthouse to connect individuals with jobs that pay a livable wage and stable housing.

“In the future, what I intend to do for this office and with other stakeholders in the community is to get individuals into employment who might be at risk and into economic security so they don't find themselves in a situation where going and shooting people or committing these violent crimes seems like a reasonable option for behavior,” Karlin said.