LIMA — Conventional wisdom says high unemployment and a struggling economy should send crime skyrocketing.
Statistics from local police agencies show fewer crimes overall in 2009 than in 2008, with decreases in most types of crime. Lima’s total number of crimes dipped 12.1 percent, while Allen County’s fell 10.9 percent.
“We would like to have zeros, but with the economy, we expected a big jump in numbers,” said Ottawa Police Chief Richard Knowlton, where the total number of crimes remained steady. “But it didn’t really turn out to be that.”
Police in the area have various theories why crime mostly fell, ranging from good policing to concealed carry gun permits making criminals think twice about committing crimes. However, none of them can say with certainty why crime dropped.
In Lima, which gets pegged as a crime town, crime fell in six of the seven major categories reported to the FBI for the annual Uniform Crime Report, scheduled to be released in the fall. Only murder increased, from two in 2008 to five in 2009. Although that number more than doubled, Lima averaged five murders over the past 15 years.
“I’m happy it’s going in the direction it’s going, but at the same time we’re not ready to declare victory. We know we still have to do better,” Lima Police Department Maj. Kevin Martin said.
Economy and crime
Putnam County was the exception to the area’s rule, with a 37 percent bump in total crime. It saw a spike in thefts, which Sheriff Jim Beutler blamed on the economy. Many of thefts were from cars and included GPS systems, purses and CDs. Some even occurred in cars locked inside in garages, he said.
“I would imagine the economy had something to do with thefts being up,” he said.
Martin said he never will believe the popular theory that crime goes up when the economy is bad.
“If someone gets laid off on Friday, they’re not going to go out and start robbing banks on Monday or breaking into homes,” he said.
Auglaize County Sheriff Al Solomon saw his number of crimes go down 12 percent. He had a slight increase in four categories, but just barely. Some categories, such as theft, showed a significant decrease.
“I thought there was a possibility thefts would go up because of the economy,” he said.
While crime was nearly the same in some categories and down in others, Solomon said the number of calls for service dropped from 26,338 in 2008 to 25,733 in 2009.
Wapakoneta Police Chief Russ Hunlock, whose total crimes went down 34 percent, also anticipated the numbers would increase due to the economy.
“It didn’t happen. Obviously we’re thankful for that,” he said.
Hunlock saw every category decrease except homicides, which remained at zero, and motor vehicle thefts, which increased from eight in 2008 to 10 in 2009. Hunlock said having officers on the streets where people can see them is a good crime prevention measure.
“I like to think we’re making a difference. My officers do get out and do enforce laws and try to be as visible as possible,” Hunlock said.
Martin credited LPD’s “pinpoint policing” project for part of the success. Police flood a troubled area of the city, chasing out the bad guys. He also credited an extra effort to enforce curfew violations, keeping children off the streets in the evening.
“Getting the juveniles off the streets on minor offenses of curfew keeps them from getting into much bigger trouble,” Martin said.
Police like to call such preventative measures pro-active policing. That also includes walking through schools, showing a presence and talking to children in hopes of deterring crime, Martin said.
Allen County Sheriff Sam Crish was happy to see crime drop in five of the seven categories during his first year in office. Only burglaries and motor vehicle thefts increased.
“We had a rash of burglaries in Perry Township that led to an arrest,” he said.
There also were several groups of people who targeted rural homes, including several high-profile home invasions earlier in the year, Crish said.
Crish credits the public with helping solve and prevent crimes. He further encouraged people to call in and report anything suspicious, which can lead to crime prevention, he said.
“We need the cooperation of people in the community,” he said.
Reasons for success or failure
Crish said there could be many reasons why crime is down, including businesses having fewer employees to catch thieves. He said he would like to think his agency is doing a good job. Crish has increased patrols in certain areas, especially if there’s a problem, which he said lowers crime.
“They’re out in the neighborhoods being visible, making it difficult for the bad guys,” he said.
Several officers and sheriffs suggested a large increase in the number of people who obtained their concealed carry gun permits last year led to a decrease in crime.
“I think that puts a message out and can definitely have a say so in these numbers,” Crish said.
Crime also fell in Auglaize County, Wapakoneta and Ottawa. Only Putnam County saw an increase in the majority of its categories.
Putnam County’s Beutler said a big increase in burglaries was because of a handful of groups hitting houses in rural locations. Once deputies made arrests, the number returned to normal, he said.Beutler also said 2009 was a hard year, given the fact he was down six officers, giving criminals more opportunities.
“Most crimes are crimes of opportunity,” he said.
Ottawa’s Knowlton said he was pleased to see crime down, although he barely sees any crime in the village of 4,400, which he calls a safe community.