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Chief O’Shea responds to controversy over remarks on youth

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — For the first time on Friday, Rockford Police Chief Dan O'Shea responded to calls for him to apologize or be dismissed after a comment he made last month about teenagers committing violent crimes resurfaced online this week.

During the May 18 news conference, Chief O'Shea said, "The 16 and 17-year-olds that are running around shooting each other, we're not wasting our time running around trying to save them. They're lost. We're trying to focus on the 3, 4, and 5-year-olds all the way up through maybe 12, 13 where we have a chance at saving them and changing their lives and changing the direction they're going in their life," O'Shea said. "And we're only a part of it. They need family, they need relatives, they need friends that will keep them on that path as well. Seventeen year olds that are going around committing murders and shooting at people, well sorry. Off to prison you go. I got nothing for you. Your family failed you up tot his point, and there's nothing we can do for you."

The remark prompted activist groups to call for an apology, and the safe house organization 100 Strong to call for O'Shea's dismissal.

On Friday, O'Shea said he would not resign or apologize, but wanted to clarify his remarks. Mayor Tom McNamara stood by his side in support.

"When someone commits a violent crime in this city, they need to be held accountable and if they're convicted through the state's attorney's office, through the judicial system, they need to go to the Department of Corrections. That's what I meant. I can't make it any clearer," O'Shea said.

"How it came out might not have been the best way to present it to them but I won't apologize for my words. I meant what I was saying. Violent criminals need to be removed from this city. I will never come off of that," he said.

McNamara and Winnebago County State's Attorney Marilyn Hite Ross stood by O'Shea side in support, defending his 4-year tenure as Chief of Police.

"I know where his heart is, and more than that I know where his actions have been the last 4 years and those actions have been to meet our community where they're at," McNamara said.

They pointed to programs that started under O'Shea, including neighborhood block parties, Strong Neighborhood partnerships, and the ROCK House program, where police live in communities they serve.

Leaders also echoed each other in saying groups calling for O'Shea's dismissal and changes to the police department need to talk with them.

"We don't want to be arguing on the Internet. We don't want to be arguing on opposite sides of the door," O'Shea said. "We all want to have face to face meaningful conversations and every group in this city has a voice, or should have a voice. And, ya know, reach out. Let us reach out to you. We have done that and will continue to do that."

McNamara says change won't come through emails and social media conversations.

"Come, speak with us. The table is open. The door is open. We have to be able to have those meaningful dialogues. In person, via Zoom, but we have to have those meaningful dialogues," McNamara said.

On Friday, the Young Rockford Activists held a protest in Loves Park, holding a moment of silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in the middle of a busy intersection. They say the protest is expected to last all night.

Our 13 WREX crew is there with live coverage on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=2640667199526091

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Audrey Moon

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