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DENISE CROSBY: Aurora gaining a new reputation for safety

AurorMayor Thomas Weisner announces he will run for third term as Mayor AurorPiper's Banquets In AurorThursday October 4 2012 |

Aurora Mayor Thomas Weisner announces he will run for a third term as Mayor of Aurora at Piper's Banquets In Aurora on Thursday, October 4, 2012 | Sean King ~ For Sun-Times Media.

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Updated: February 25, 2014 6:23AM

Seriously, at first I thought it was a joke.

Aurora had just been named one of the top 10 safest mid-size cities in the country.

A reputation for violence, most of us know, has been a yoke around Aurora’s neck for close to a generation now. We’d been writing so much about the mayhem created by gangs from the mid-1990s to early 2000s that we even began a newspaper campaign entitled “Enough is Enough.”

But that was a lifetime ago. Many lifetimes. The reality was those horrendous crime stats — the mid ’90s averaged more than 20 murders a year — included children and other innocents caught in the crossfires of what we too often referred to as the “mean streets.”

So when the news story came out that Aurora had landed number 8 on this safe city list, just three notches below our perpetually kid-friendly neighbor to the east, I wasn’t the only one surprised.

“There were a few indicators we were getting better,” said Aurora Police Chief Greg Thomas. “But I did not think we would be up that high.”

“I was thrilled to see it,” echoed Mayor Tom Weisner. “I knew we were making progress, but there are a lot of mid-size cities in this country ... it is a very elite group.”

Thomas said he quickly checked out the methodology that was used by online real estate brokerage Movoto, which compiled the report using 2013 crime stats for burglary, theft, vehicle theft, murder, rape, robbery and assault in 100 cities with populations between 126,047 and 210,309. And the chief gave a thumbs up to the consistency and uniformity that was used.

Of course, it didn’t take a survey by a real estate company to tell us just how much progress has been made in this town. We wrote plenty of stories celebrating 2012’s zero murder rate, and the Herculean efforts by local, state and federal law enforcement, as well as the passionate work of churches, neighborhood groups and other activists that have created a more peaceful Aurora.

Still, “it would be foolish not to,” use this latest story in the city’s marketing efforts to rebrand an image, the mayor noted.

Both he and Thomas also take pride in the fact Aurora was one of only two urban centers on this top 10 list, a blue-collar diverse community compared to the other winners — seven of the top 10 are in California — that are fast-growing suburban areas.

Yes, glass-slippered Naperville is still three notches above the once ugly stepsister that shares its western border. But when you consider how far Aurora has come, you know why the chief and mayor — indeed, anyone who cares about this city — are beaming.

“It’s not just safety,” noted Weisner. “It’s about livability … about sustainability.”

All true. But as Chief Thomas also points out, 15 years ago, people were rightfully worried about becoming a statistic.

“We earned that reputation in the 1990s,” he said. And it will take a while to lose it.

Of course a survey is just a survey. And we all tend to pooh-pooh those data-based lists, especially if our community ends up on or near the bottom. Nevertheless, we all have reason to celebrate this news.

My suggestion: Take in “42nd Street” at the beautiful Paramount Theatre, where more than 200,000 people flocked to DOWNTOWN Aurora last year for an evening of Broadway-caliber entertainment.

Things they are a’changing. Seriously.

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