Danville is plagued with statistics.
With numbers that show it ranks eighth in Illinois in violent crimes, has an unemployment rate almost twice the national average and one of the lowest health outcomes and factors, it’s understandable if a community fatigue, disinterest or simple unwillingness to trust data has set in.
But when a 24/7 Wall St. article naming Danville as one of the worst cities in which to raise a child went viral last summer, many residents took it personally. Comments on social media attempted to find an explanation for problems the city faces, or perhaps a reason why they've been inflated with animosity instead of productive evaluation.
Of all the Facebook comments left on crime stories published by the Commercial-News last year, about 26 percent of readers said they blame either crime from current or previous Chicago residents, 53 percent blame the city of Danville itself, 10 percent blame public housing and residents on the east side. About 11 percent believe these crime trends are happening everywhere, not just Danville.
The latter is the train of thought for the director of the Housing Authority of the City of Danville, Jaclyn Vinson.
“I hear those stories, ‘Danville is the most violent,’ I don’t believe it. I don’t see it,” Vinson said. “I see what’s going on in Champaign and what’s going on in Decatur. Crime is everywhere.”
Notably, of the top 10 Illinois cities with the most violent crimes, Danville has one of the smallest population sizes, about 31,000 in 2016. However, Danville could potentially rank higher depending on the specifics of a statistical variable.
This data, which comes from the 2016 FBI Unified Crime Report, shows zero murders for Danville in 2016. That wasn't the case, and it also reports zero murders for all of Vermilion County. It’s the only area in the top 10 reporting zero murders.
The FBI’s report defines murder as the “willful (non-negligent) killing of one human being by another. The classification of this offense is based solely on police investigation as opposed to the determination of a court, medical examiner, coroner, jury, or other judicial body.”
This criteria could have prevented Danville from recording even more violent crimes in 2016.
Despite the aforementioned public comments on local crime, records show a large majority of people charged and arrested with serious felonies, such as murder and armed robbery, do not live in the east side nor have they previously reported living in Chicago.
While property and violent crimes reported to police in 2017 do cluster in the east side and at public housing units, many of these crimes were spread widely throughout all areas of the city.
Of the 31 felonies that include murder and armed robbery reported by the Commercial-News last year that resulted in a Vermilion County arrest, only about three people were living in public housing. Additionally, only three people either moved from or currently lived in Chicago at the time of their crime, and of them, two had been previously charged before coming to Danville.
A well-maintained belief is that crime has continuously increased following the migration of Chicago low-income housing residents in the 1990s after public housing was demolished as part of the Hope VI initiative, but current data shows crime in Danville is more widespread.
When given information and statistics about Danville compared to other cities similar in size, two criminal justice and criminology professors independently offered the same answer.
One of the factors in the high crime rate is likely the high unemployment rate.
In October 2017, the Illinois Department of Employment Security determined Vermilion County had the highest rate of unemployment of all local workforce areas in the state at 6 percent, which is close to twice the national average at 3.9 percent.
Illinois State University professor William Lally has a PhD in criminology and has researched how social characteristics influence legal outcomes. He also was a law enforcement officer for more than 20 years.
“The majority of research out there, historically speaking, has only found a link between property crimes and unemployment rate, but not really violent crimes,” Lally said.
Danville also was ranked eighth in the state out of 532 cities in property crimes.
Jay Gilliam is the chair of the criminology department at the University of Illinois Springfield and has a PhD in criminal justice. He's worked on community aspects of crime, and said there are often clear factors leading up to trends in community crime.
“There’s usually four or five other things that lead to an armed robbery, for example. Maybe a conversation goes a certain direction and all the other dominoes fall,” Gilliam said. “It’s a series of events that usually do not go as planned.
“With high levels of unemployment and poverty, people who are disenfranchised are not going to be part of the group in society that have a stake in conforming.”
About 20 percent of Danville residents live in poverty according to the 2016 U.S. Census.
Gilliam suggested free job training and programs, while making them as accessible as possible, are good ways to combat unemployment.
This is something the Housing Authority of the City of Danville has focused on for the past year and a half.
“There’s a large barrier to employment or education for low-income populations that can be broken down to two things: transportation and childcare,” Vinson said. “What we have been focusing on, is overcoming those barriers.”
With a community partnership with the East Central Illinois Community Action Agency, Head Start Day Care on the Fair Oaks campus is provided for children 6 weeks to 5 years old. The housing authority also has partnerships with the American Job Center and the University of Illinois extension office.
Computer labs in two buildings at Fair Oaks are available to residents to help with resumes and job searching.
For community members in the area — not just residents of public housing — who don’t have their high school diploma, an instructor from Danville Area Community College comes on site and offers GED prep. DACC also offers the Getting Ahead program, a 15-week course focused toward individual circumstances that Vinson says helps teach, “how to move yourself out of poverty.”
It's a 12-member course that just graduated its sixth class.
These programs aim to directly combat unemployment by focusing on education and training.
Since the majority of people who committed felonies last year don’t live in the east side, programs following the same model could be applied throughout Vermilion County.
“You can be a champion of change or you can be someone who supports the standard. What we have in terms of our partnerships isn’t to make ourselves feel better at the end of the day,” Vinson said. “It’s to bring our community forward with filling of job vacancies.
“Connecting people to jobs and making them job-ready should be an important goal for the entire county.”
Lally said feelings and misconceptions held by residents about local crime trends tend to last so long because they’re reinforced by other people in the community.
“There’s this ingrained belief that one’s gut feeling is actually the truth,” he said. “No matter what (data) you try to throw at them otherwise — devoid of any facts or statistics — they won’t believe you.”
And for those who don’t hold a stake in the community, Gilliam said it’s more difficult to find positive ways to activate stimuli.
“Imagine living in a place where you know you’re not wanted and people don’t make it as easy for you to live there as for others,” Gilliam said. “You wouldn’t want to live there.”