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Improved statistics in city encouraging, but much more to be done

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Columbus residents are more likely to experience a property crime than any other type of illegal activity.

But the Columbus Police Department is making progress to reduce thefts, burglaries, criminal mischief, arson and fraud, recording an 8.2 percent drop in these types of reported incidents last year.

Since 2011, city property crime trends show:

A 38 percent reduction in vehicle thefts

A 21 percent drop in burglaries

A 16 percent reduction in thefts

However, the 2,122 burglaries, thefts and vehicle thefts reported in 2013 — a reduction of 469 from two years earlier — is part of a property crime rate that’s still above the national average and remains unacceptable, Mayor Kristen Brown said.

In 2013, about 48 of every 1,000 Columbus residents were victims of property crime, compared with the 2012 national average of about 28 per 1,000. Figures regarding the 2013 national crime rate are not yet available, Columbus Police Chief Jason Maddix said.

Reducing the level of property crimes and curbing the use of illegal drugs are among the city’s top priorities, the mayor said.

“Our long-term goal is to cut the (property) crime rate in half from where it is today,” Brown said.

To achieve that goal, the police department will continue to push officers to take proactive steps to stop criminals, instead of just responding to crimes after the fact, Maddix said.

For example, the Columbus Police Department made 18,682 traffic stops in 2013 — about 10,000 more than the 8,506 stops recorded one year earlier.

“Traffic enforcement will lead to more criminal arrests,” Maddix said.

Other proactive steps emphasized or initiated last year include increasing patrols in problematic areas and having more face-to-face contact with concerned residents, the chief said.

“By being visible in many different neighborhoods, it allows us to be more proactive than reactive,” patrolman Ben Quesenbery said. “With the increased police presence, we can help deter the criminals and stop the crime before it happens.”

A key factor in the increased patrols was the Community-Oriented Policing and Problem Solving unit, also known as COPPS, which was formed in mid-July, Maddix said. The three-member unit is assigned specific goals and investigations without having efforts interrupted by routine service calls.

But sustainable efforts to reduce property crime can be achieved only by a willingness among residents to work closely with law enforcement to reduce crime and take their neighborhoods back, Columbus Police Department spokesman Lt. Matt Myers said.

“Progress in reducing crime moves at the speed of trust,” Myers said.

“If people trust the police and maintain a relationship with us, that’s when you start seeing progress.”

That public trust is mostly achieved through actions, said Judy Jackson, a Franklin Street resident and 11th and Washington streets watch group member.

“We see more of a police presence in our neighborhood,” Jackson said. “More (officers) can be seen walking, as well as driving through our area.”

Brown said police documented more than 18,000 community policing patrols in 2013, which are patrols requested by concerned residents in addition to normal police presence throughout the city. Police now document when they are asked to provide additional patrols and how often they visit those areas, Myers said.

Security surveillance

Another step that will help deter crime is installing security cameras at 11th and Washington streets and at other problem areas throughout the city, Jackson said. Ten new security cameras are being installed in selected areas around downtown Columbus this spring.

Cameras are being placed at:

Fourth and Washington streets at The Commons.

11th and Washington streets.

Morningside Park in the East Columbus neighborhood.

The Columbus Police Department training facility on Andrews Street.

The city also will seek a second camera at Ninth Street Park. The locations will have multiple cameras to provide 180-degree coverage of the surrounding areas.

The strategy behind using the cameras is to provide more security in areas where there have been a large number of police calls and as added security for high-value properties such as The Commons.

Columbus Police also give much of the credit for a 37 percent increase in drug-related arrests last year to local residents such as Jackson who are willing to report suspicious activity.

There was a nearly 18 percent increase in reports of suspicious vehicles or persons from residents in the 11th and Washington street area after neighborhood residents established a watch group last August, Myers said.

In the seven months since the organization formed in that neighborhood, statistics show that:

Burglaries have dropped by more than 30 percent.

Thefts are down more than 43 percent.

Batteries have been reduced by 93 percent.

Fights are down 36 percent.

Vandalism has dropped 10 percent.

“We’re doing well in the fact that there’s a core of people really interested in taking their neighborhood back,” watch group facilitator Sheryl Nulph said. “As we continue to grow and gain momentum, I think we will do a better job.”

Five new neighborhood watches were established in Columbus in 2013. So far this year, new neighborhood watches being formed involve 15 residents in the area of Cambridge Apartments and 25 in Tipton Lakes, Myers said.

Drug use and property crime

A strong and undeniable correlation exists between property crime and illegal drug use, the mayor said.

“Property crime is often a conversion of cash by criminals to feed their drug habits,” Brown said.

She said more than 40 percent of the drug cases Columbus police worked in 2013 were meth-related.

A relatively new concern for Columbus police is heroin, as nine people died last year from heroin overdoses.

The total number of heroin-dealing cases increased from four to 24 last year, Brown said.

The city’s fight against drugs was a focal point in the mayor’s State of the City address Tuesday night.

Police tactics

Law enforcement is taking a number of different approaches to reduce crime, Maddix said.

The police chief believes the 9-month-old COPPS unit deserves much of the credit for an overall 37 percent increase in drug-related arrests.

“At the same time, our undercover unit continues to target the higher-level drug dealers,” Maddix said.

Another part of the multiple-prong approach is trying to get habitual criminals off the street so they aren’t committing as many crimes, he said.

Just last month, Columbus Police arrested five people accused of dealing heroin, cocaine or meth.

In 2012, Detective Sgt. Tom Foust was tasked with identifying and tracking repeat offenders. Last year, he identified 68 people who either were consistently being sought for illegal wrongdoing or who had committed numerous crimes in the past.

In 2013, 74 percent of those consistently being sought on warrants were arrested, while 82 percent of repeat offenders were taken into custody, Foust said.

“If we can address the repeat offenders and get a handle on illegal drugs, I think you’ll see the overall crime rate keep going down,” Myers said.

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