Top safety picks

At 329 incidents per 100,000 people, a person is four times more likely to be victimized by violent crime in Aurora than Naperville, where there were just 79 such offenses per 100,000 last year. Framed in the context of all types of crime, however, a recent report found Aurorans nearly as safe as their neighbors to the east.

Notwithstanding three murders in Naperville in 2012, and a pair of shooting deaths in Aurora last week, both cities were among the eight safest U.S. towns of their size, according to a newly released assessment of last year’s FBI crime statistics.

The online real estate brokerage Movoto placed Naperville fourth and Aurora eighth overall in its list of the 10 safest mid-sized U.S. communities. Movoto said the rankings were based on FBI crime data compiled from 2013 that included incidents such as burglary, theft, vehicle theft, murder, rape, robbery and assault.

The two cities were the only Midwest communities to show up on the list and, along with Cary, N.C., they were the only three of the top-ranked 10 that are not in California.

The rankings also found Naperville second only to Cary in the chances of being hit by violent crime, at one in 1,819.

A limited look

Relatively narrow in scope, the study targeted 100 towns ranging in size from Richmond, Va., at 210,309 residents, to Bellevue, Wash., home to 126,439. The sample represents the 101st to the 200th largest cities in the U.S., by population.

Naperville Police Chief Bob Marshall asserted that recent shifts made within his department continue to keep the city’s residents safer than most. The “new organizational model” has meant such adjustments as reassigning some employees to other duties, and placing additional officers in the city’s downtown, where late-night dustups and thefts had been on the rise.

Mayor A. George Pradel wasn’t shocked by the newest distinction placed on his city, either.

“It’s a big deal for Naperville,” the city’s longtime top elected official said this week. “Our police are wonderful, but it’s the whole attitude of our city that makes us so safe, because everybody cares about each other.”

A former Naperville police officer, he also cited the high-tech interoperable emergency radio system the city shares with Aurora, and credited the community’s vibrant Neighborhood Watch networks and its culture of encouraging mutual support among Naperville’s safety features.

“With the excellent police department that we have, we also credit our citizens for their attentiveness to safety,” he said. “You can have the best police in the nation, but if your people aren’t behind it, you’re not safe. … The residents of our town participate very heavily.”

Starting young

Pradel also pointed out that Naperville residents begin early to learn the value of a safe community, when young children attend Safety Town programs at the miniature city on the northeast corner of the city’s public safety campus on Aurora Avenue.

The Police Department also offers free insight into the workings of law enforcement, through the Naperville Citizen Police Academy. The popular once-weekly program, which will begin a new session of Feb. 26, spans 12 weeks and offers a look at police practices, operations and objectives through lectures, discussion and hands-on demonstrations.

“It all works together to make the town safer in a big way,” Pradel said of the range of safety-focused initiatives in Naperville.

In terms of violent crime, the least safe town surveyed by Movoto was New Haven, Conn., where one in 97 people was a victim last year. Overall crime rates put Springfield, Mo., on top in the report. The incidence of all types of crime there during the year was one for every 18 citizens.

No one is presenting the new good-news list as empirically sound research, although those being recognized locally were clearly pleased about it.

Pradel emphasized that the credit spreads far for Naperville’s recognition as a safe bet.

“If it wasn’t a team effort,” he said, “it wouldn’t happen.”

The full report can be found at

Sun-Times Media writer Denise Crosby contributed.