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Editorial: Improvements made, but war on drugs rages

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Columbus has made notable inroads in reducing some crimes, attributable to proactive measures by police and concerned residents.

Those efforts are a good step in the right direction; but as one startling statistic shows, the community has more steps to take.

In 2013, about 48 of every 1,000 Columbus residents were victims of property crime, which exceeded the 2012 national average of about 28 residents per 1,000. Property crimes often are tied to illegal drug use. Criminals steal property that they sell for cash, which they use to buy drugs.

Methamphetamine is one of the biggest problems, as more than 40 percent of the drug cases Columbus police worked last year were meth-related. Heroin is a growing problem, too. Cases of dealing the drug increased from four to 24 last year, and nine people died from heroin overdoses in 2013.

Mayor Kristen Brown declared community drug abuse as “public enemy number one” and described the battle against drugs in Columbus as “raging.”

Some proactive measures have produced significant reductions in crimes and have created a blueprint for attacking the problem.

Police increased patrols in problematic areas and conducted 10,000 more traffic stops in 2013 than the prior year. Also, the Community-Oriented Policing and Problem Solving (COPPS) unit was formed in mid-July. The three-member unit is assigned specific goals and investigations without having efforts interrupted by routine service calls.

Police also have had help from concerned residents who have formed neighborhood watch groups. Five new watch groups were established in 2013, and eight have been formed so far in Columbus.

The combination of proactive efforts by concerned residents and police have been successful.

The keen eyes of watch group members for the 11th and Washington streets area have resulted in an 18 percent increase in reports of suspicious vehicles and individuals, for example. In the seven months since the watch group was formed, burglaries, thefts, batteries, fights and vandalism have decreased by specific type by modest to significant levels.

While statistics are available for only the 11th and Washington streets area, police said improvements have been seen in the Mead Village and Ninth Street Park neighborhoods because of watch group efforts.

Drug-related arrests in Columbus have increased 37 percent, and police said the COPPS unit is mainly responsible.

Efforts to reduce property crimes have contributed to a downward trend since 2011:

  • 38 percent reduction in vehicle thefts.
  • 21 percent drop in burglaries.
  • 16 percent reduction in thefts.

The 2,122 burglaries, thefts and vehicle thefts reported in 2013 represent a reduction of 469 such crimes from 2011.

That’s progress, but the rate of 48 out of every 1,000 Columbus residents falling victim to property crime is unacceptable.

Ten new security cameras are being installed in areas around Columbus where there have been a large number of police calls. This step is intended to act as a deterrent to crime but also record any that happens. That will help.

However, for a significant turnaround to occur, and for the property crime rate to drop below the national average, more community-policing strategies and outreach efforts will be needed.

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