Illinois : Safety by City
- Arlington Heights
- Crystal Lake
- Des Plaines
- East St Louis
- Fairview Heights
- Granite City
- Mount Prospect
- Oak Lawn
- Rock Island
- Tinley Park
Rockford, Illinois, is a northern Illinois city less than two hours west of Chicago.
It’s the largest city in the state outside of Chicagoland.
Fans of “A League of Their Own” will remember the Rockford Peaches, a real women’s baseball team that played here in the 1940s.
The city is right in the middle of the Rust Belt and has struggled with tough economic times for decades now.
A push for new business and technology industries hasn’t been able to keep up with the disintegration of the community’s livelihood.
A revitalization effort is underway, but the crime rate is posing a big obstacle to any forward movement.
More than 20% of the city lives in poverty, and the average income is less than $45,000.
The diverse community is being held hostage by gun violence which is only increasing as of 2022.
Even as of this publication, there were four people killed in the past two weeks.
You might hear people call it “Trickford” and that’s because this is the hometown of the popular band Cheap Trick.
They are the only people from Rockford to ever be inducted into the Rock &Roll Hall of Fame.
The footprints of industrial history here are everywhere, leading to some unique historical sites to visit that span different types of architecture.
This is also an outdoor paradise, with forests and rivers openly available for recreation.
You can even visit a casino here and try your luck in a city that seems to be running out of it.
Warnings & Dangers in Rockford
OVERALL RISK : HIGH
There's a high risk here. The city is among the top 20 most dangerous in the country. With such a large population, you can't even claim numbers are skewed to show it as worse than it is. There are some caveats to the crime rate we'll talk about. You shouldn't necessarily avoid Rockford, but you need to go in with eyes wide open to the dangers.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : MEDIUM
It's ideal to have your own car here. Not only can you better explore the great outdoors, but you are also close to so many major metropolitan areas, like Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Louis. There are shuttle services from the Chicago airports to Rockford. Rental cars are widely available. You can also call a taxi or get a rideshare. If you aren't in your own car, there's a medium risk just because of the random crime happening here. Even having your own car comes with certain safety standards to uphold.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : MEDIUM
There's a medium risk of being pickpocketed or having something stolen. You should not walk around with designer bags or thick wallets. Theft risks also come from car break-ins. Never leave anything lying around.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
Rockford deals with the hazards of the Midwest, which include: severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, snowstorms, ice storms, and flooding. There's a medium risk because you should be prepared for each one. Most come with enough warning to prepare, but you should be knowledgeable about basic severe and winter weather safety measures.
MUGGING RISK : MEDIUM
The robbery rate is twice the national average, so there's a medium risk here. This is currently just a very violent city. There is no hesitation about using a gun among criminals here and there aren't enough people in the community who will speak up as witnesses. If you are confronted, do not fight back. There is a growing trend of homes and businesses allowing police to have access to the security footage to help catch criminals.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
There's a low risk here. The real terrorists are the criminals who won't stop the violence in Rockford. International terrorists are more likely to target a big city like Chicago than a medium-sized city like Rockford.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
There have been local scams at COVID-19 testing sites and some people posing as police demanding money to avoid going to jail. These are mostly focused on locals. The sad part is that criminals in Rockford are more likely to just take your stuff forcefully than scam you out of it. It's a low risk of being scammed, but not for a good reason.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : MEDIUM
This section is always hard for me because I am a woman. I feel like I can hold my own in any city and I don't like to give a different rating because women are somehow weaker or more vulnerable to crime. I'm going to put away my "Strong Woman" philosophy here and give this a medium risk. This is because the perception is that women might make an easier target. You really need to be extra cautious when visiting here and don't be out alone after dark. There are safe places to visit and cool things to see, but there's also a sexual assault rate twice the national average.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
There's a low risk in the tap water and no violations were found in the annual water quality report. The city also won an award for having the best tasting water, if that's important to you.
Safest Places to Visit in Rockford
You’re going to see some references to the name Midway.
This was once the name of the city before it was changed to Rockford.
That holds true at the Midway Village Museum, the history museum of Rockford.
There really is an impressive, diverse, and educational past in this city and it’s worth taking the time to learn to understand how it got to where it is now.
They don’t call it Forest City for nothing.
There are several ways to enjoy the lush life in Rockford and starting at the Anderson Japanese Gardens is perfect.
Tours are offered twice a day and there’s a restaurant to eat among the flowers.
Along the Rock River banks, you can visit the Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens for an impromptu trip to the tropics.
Who thought you’d see palm trees in landlocked Illinois?
There is also the more casual Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Center.
You can visit the children’s garden here too, for a place to play among the foliage.
Kids and adults will not want to miss seeing Jane.
She’s the Rockford pre-historic resident.
The dinosaur bones are perfectly assembled to give you a look at Jane in all her glory.
This is just part of the Burpee Museum of Natural History with more than 250 interactive exhibits.
Don’t come here in a rush because there is a lot to do.
It’s hard to pick a starting point for outdoor adventures here when you are familiar with the waters or terrain.
That’s where a trip to Rocktown Adventures can help.
They’ll custom tailor an outdoor event on the water or land.
They even hold some introductory kayaking classes if you have always wanted to try them.
One popular outdoor spot during the warmer months is West Rock Wake Park at Levings Lake.
No boats are allowed here, so you can waterski and wakeboard while connected to cables that give you the ride of a lifetime.
Downtown Rockford has a wide variety of options and antique shopping is one of the top draws with more than 30 stores.
You’ll also find some local boutiques.
In a city that is struggling, it would be great if you could shop and eat at only local establishments to help local business owners who, no doubt, have been through a lot in the past few years.
When the sun goes down, downtown Rockford heats up.
This isn’t a sleepy city that rolls up the welcome mat at dusk.
The party and dining experiences go well into the night.
There are craft breweries and distilleries.
Whiskey is a particular specialty in some of the bars downtown.
You can also find restaurants at all price points for a nice night out.
There’s also a Hard Rock Casino here if you want to get a little gambling in during your trip.
Just be sure to have a security guard walk you to the car if you win money.
Places to Avoid in Rockford
The northeast side of the city has the lowest crime rates when you look at the crime maps.
Along the river and to the west are the more dangerous parts of town.
Many of the recent homicides and shootings are happening in neighborhoods.
It’s important when visiting here you stick to surface streets and highways.
Don’t cut through a neighborhood, especially on the west side of town.
Avoid any kind of confrontation here too.
This is definitely a city where things can escalate very quickly.
If you are ever in an area and get a bad feeling about it, just leave.
Intuition is critical because some of the crime trends just don’t make sense and there isn’t a perfect way to tell you to avoid being the victim of a random act of violence.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Rockford
- The Rockford Police Department website has a lot of resources for visitors. You can review the 7-day Arrest Log and see the most recent crimes in the area.
- Rockford Police have made it clear that controlling the crime rates requires community involvement and they’ve made several resources available to do so without fear of retaliation. Download the Rockford Police app and you can anonymously give tips to police if you get information about a crime after the fact. You can also call Crime Stoppers to be eligible for a reward at (815) 963-7867. During an emergency, you should still call 911.
- Sign up for emergency notifications while you’re visiting Rockford. The reverse 911 system will send you an email or text when there is an area closed due to criminal activity or a criminal on the loose. This is very important for any visitor to Rockford. You do have to enter an address, so just use the address of your hotel.
- Speaking of hotels, I’d recommend a hotel over renting a home here and many crimes in the past year have happened in residential areas. A hotel gives you better security, even though it lacks the amenities a rental home has, like a backyard or fully operable kitchen.
- There’s a drug problem in Rockford and that leads to more crime. The police are asking everyone to help give tips about drug activities in the community. The hotline for reporting drug activity is (571)362-5098. The website has a list of things to document when reporting drug activity and can help make you be a better witness.
- If you want to go fishing during a visit to Rockford or anywhere in Illinois, you need a license from the Department of Natural Resources. You can buy it online before you go. Your home license won’t qualify as a valid fishing license here.
- Nearly 500 cars were stolen in Rockford in 2021. If you are driving here, be sure to give the best car safety and anti-theft protection you possibly can. Even buying an anti-theft device from your steering wheel is cheaper than paying the deductible for a break-in or theft. Always park in well lit areas, ideally near a surveillance camera. Don’t leave anything, and I mean ANYTHING, in the car.
- While it’s illegal to text and drive in Illinois, here’s another reason to put the phone down. 185 accidents in Rockford were hit-and-runs in 2021. Drive with patience and a calm head. Don’t get baited into road rage. You might even consider using a dash cam while driving around town, just in case. I do this often when I’m visiting a new city. It might be used for YouTube, but could also come in handy in case of an accident.
- Cold weather doesn’t stop people in Rockford from enjoying the great outdoors in the winter. If you are going out, be sure to dress in layers. Hypothermia can set in quickly if you aren’t prepared. I’m a particular fan of hand warmers, which are small packets that fit in your palm and keep you warm. I even put a few in my boots when I’m spending a lot of time outdoors in cold weather.
- When visiting any of the botanical or tree attractions here, don’t take any flowers, leaves or stems. It’s against the law and you could get kicked out.
So... How Safe Is Rockford Really?
Rockford isn’t safe, but it’s really trying.
The 2021 Annual Police Report shows some improvements in property crime rates and violent crime rates.
Enhanced police enforcement and investigations have led to 433 guns being taken off the streets in 2021.
That’s a 54% increase from the year before.
With the recent rash of murders, Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara said enough is enough.
“When you hear four murders in 10 days, I think we all know the amount of violent crime taking place is absolutely unacceptable,” McNamara added.
Police also say it’s a small portion of the population that is involved in a large number of crimes happening.
Catching those criminals is key to lowering the crime rate and making people feel safer in the community.
Nearly 163,000 calls for service came in during 2021, and that’s more than one per resident in the whole city.
Some locals will fire back against this, saying “there are definitely bad parts of town, but what city doesn’t have that?”
Others compare their life in Chicago to Rockford and feel much safer here.
In 2021 there were:
- 24 homicides
- 164 people shot
- 255 robberies
- 750 reports of shots fired
- 1874 aggravated assaults
The city has also launched an initiative called “Transform Rockford” with a goal of being a Top 25 city by the year 2025.
There’s a scorecard measurement for progress.
Being a top city isn’t just about reducing crime, but also about being a booming area for businesses and attractions.
The aerospace industry already has a niche here, and the hopes are to develop a plan that will bring more technology jobs to the region as well.
How Does Rockford Compare?
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- Visas - You just need a Visa to enter the United States and that process takes up to four months. Be sure you have a valid passport as well or you won't be able to travel.
- Currency - You can only use the U.S. Dollar here. Please don't carry around large amounts of cash in Rockford. Use one credit card and keep it secured in your wallet. You can also use mobile pay, but you should keep your mobile device out of sight when walking around.
- Weather - You need to be prepared for extreme winter and summer weather, and this is a humid area, so summers are going to be muggy. Bring hiking boots and bug spray. Winter requires thick layers of clothing and snow boots.
- Airports - Rockford has a very small airport with a handful of flights to Florida, Arizona, or Nevada. You are about an hour to 90 minutes from the Chicago area airports. The Milwaukee airport is also about 90 minutes away. There are shuttle services readily available to airports in both cities.
- Travel Insurance - You definitely want to get travel insurance here with all the risks that exist and unpredictable Midwestern weather. There's a reason they say "If you don't like the weather here, wait a few hours, it will change" and it definitely holds true.
Rockford Weather Averages (Temperatures)
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