Police chief: Decline in crime probably due to number of factors

Sean C. Morgan

Driving a 19.5-percent decline in the number of crimes reported in Sweet Home last year is a dramatic fall in reported thefts, according to new details released last week as part of the Police Department’s annual report.

The number of property crimes fell 29 percent from 2018, with 642, to 2019, with 456, while the number of person crimes increased by 20.5 percent, from 151 in 2018 to 182 in 2019.

According to the annual report, the number of thefts reported in Sweet Home fell from 429 in 2018 to 282 in 2019, a 34-percent decline.

Also falling were criminal mischief reports, from 110 in 2018 to 63 in 2019, a 37-percent decline. The number of burglary reports fell from 43 in 2018 to 38 in 2019, an 11.6-percent decline.

The number of vehicle thefts declined from 24 to 16 and robberies from six to one.

On the upswing were fraud and forgery reports. Sweet Home had 10 reported forgeries in 2018 and 22 in 2019 after multiple reports of counterfeit bills. The number of reported frauds increased from 19 to 28.

Among person crimes, the number of harassment reports increased from 55 to 61, a 10-percent increase. Police received 36 calls for assault in 2018 and 37 in 2019. The number of reported sex crimes increased from 15 in 2018 to 22 in 2019.

Police Chief Jeff Lynn said the department is planning to provide more public education to help protect against fraud and forgery, and it will continue its efforts to target and drive down the number of thefts.

“The criminal mischiefs, we haven’t focused on that aspect of it,” Lynn said. “That’s really just associated with damaging someone else’s property.”

He thinks that the decline in criminal mischief is because a majority of crimes is down, he said.

Lynn said a number of factors play into the declining crime rate.

Previous increases in the clearance rate could affect the crime numbers, he said. The types of drugs that are in use could affect it. Other reasons might include improved economic opportunities in the region, the growing high school graduation rate, focused patrols and the new detective position, which helps in followup on reported crimes and allows officers to spend more time on patrol.

“I think it all comes into play,” Lynn said. “And a certain couple of people could be in prison that right now makes our life easier. I think it all just has some bearing on it.”

Lynn said the department is particularly interested in cutting the number of warrant arrests this year. Arrest warrants are issued by local judges on behalf of the state, authorizing the arrest and detention of an individual for a crime such as failure to appear or failure to comply with a court order or sentence.

In 2018, police made 1,257 warrant arrests, declining in 2019 to 1,137, a 9.5-percent difference.

“Even though they’re down 120, that is still significant,” Lynn said. “That is near three a day. This isn’t isolated to just us.”

It’s a problem for agencies around the state, he said, but “we’re going to do something, something different,” Lynn said, which will require working with the courts.

During the past year, Sweet Home Municipal Court entered 857 warrants, up from 784 in 2018.

Lynn also is concerned about keeping up the clearance rate.

In 2018, police cleared, by arrest or finding the report was unfounded, 222 out of 642 property crimes, a clearance rate of 35 percent. In 2018, they cleared 127 out of 456 property crimes, a 28-percent clearance rate.

They cleared 68.9 percent of person crime reports in 2018 and 66.5 percent in 2019.

“That’s something we’re really going to focus on,” Lynn said. Nationally, clearance rates run around 22 to 24 percent. Sweet Home is at 29 percent. His goal is 35 percent.

“We hit 35 percent in 2018, so we want to get back up there,” Lynn said, adding that the department is looking at a number of small things to help boost that number.

Coming up, for example, the Police Department will unveil a “My Civic Eye” program, which is a database of surveillance cameras. The cameras are included only with permission and cooperation from members of the community.

With it, when a crime is reported, police can see what cameras may have footage that could help locate suspects, Lynn said.

Among statistics, Sweet Home police responded to 22 reports of driving under the influence in 2019, down from 23 in 2018; 60 controlled substance offenses, down from 66; and 18 disorderly conducts, down from 20.

Police responded to 451 disturbances in 2019, up from 444; 517 animal complaints, down from 559; and 1,071 reports of suspicious activity, down from 1,191.

Police arrested 839 adults, down from 1,007, on 1,625 charges, down from 1,905. They arrested 161 juveniles, up from 157, on 226 charges, down from 247.

Police officers made 1,658 traffic stops, down from 1,721, and issued 736 citations, up from 556, to 474 persons, up from 371. They gave 1,184 warnings, down from 1,343.

Of the citations, 384 were for violating the rules of the road, such as speeding and driving while suspended. They issued 215 citations for financial responsibility violations, like driving uninsured.

The busiest day of the week was Wednesday, with a total of 2,264 calls to the Police Department on that day throughout the year. The slowest day of the week was Sunday, with 999 calls. Friday was the second busiest day, with 1,500 calls reported.