I always recommend to my buyers to drive through neighborhoods at different times of the day, and days of the week, to get a feeling for the area they intend to move into.... There is a lot of information on the internet concerning school reports, town reports and then there is always the police department if you have concerns that they can answer....
And always remember everyone understands something different when it comes to the expression "is this a nice family area?".... best to check it out for yourself.....
Good Luck, by the way as you are looking in certain areas for your new home, and you drive to and from various properties you already get a good feeling about where things are in the neighborhoods, parks, train stations, schools, shopping etc.
Enjoy your search and make sure you do work with an experienced area Buyers agent.
Edith YourRealtor4Life and Chicago Northshore Connection
Working always in the very BEST interest of her clients
When looking for the perfect area to suit your needs - you have to do your homework. This is what I suggest to buyers.
1. Look on the internet. Look at crime states, review the websites of the town, park district, library, schools, look at school report cards and stats through Illinois Dept of Ed. Google the town and state. Here is one link that may be helpful, but don't look at only one source. http://files2.chicagotribune.com/homes/index.html?ID=51510&a Even what kind of programs a park district or library has can give you an indication of whether or not the area will suit your particular needs.
2. Drive through the community at various times of day and night and various days of the week. Look around and talk to people. In the park, out in their yards... Don't be shy. People generally don't mind talking for a minute or two.
You can't shortcut the research. Only you can see an area is right for you.