Crime statistics might be deceptive
The Fairfield Police Department released statistics this week indicating arrests and criminal charges were much higher in 2013 than the prior year, although Capt. Dave Thomas said the sharp increase might be due to the department training new officers in 2012.
The statistics appear to show a dramatic increase in criminal charges from 2012 to 2013, when the number of charges filed rose 25 percent, from 553 criminal charges in 2012 to 694 in 2013. The number of investigations initiated by the police jumped 17 percent, from 658 in 2012 to 770 the following year. Arrests increased, too, climbing from 320 in 2012 to 363 in 2013, a change of 13 percent.
Thomas said the apparently alarming increase in crime statistics might have more to do with how crimes were investigated and less to do with a sudden outbreak of lawless behavior. In an email to The Ledger, Thomas said the statistics from 2012 appear to be an aberration from the prior years, when the number of calls, arrests and citations were more in line with the 2013 figures.
Thomas attributes the low totals for charges and arrests in 2012 to personnel changes in the police department that reduced the department’s reach. He said three full-time officers left the department between 2011-2013. The police department replaced them, but the new officers had to spend about three months of the year at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy in Des Moines. Not only that, new officers are not ready to respond to calls on their own, because they must tag along with a veteran officer. When officers have to double-up like this, it limits the number of calls the department can respond to.
“It takes six months of training before an officer is out on their own doing their own cases,” Thomas said. “For half of that time, we have to put the new officer with another officer. It takes one year to 1.5 years before we feel comfortable putting a person out on their own to work night shift.”
The seemingly large number of criminal charges in 2013, 694, is actually lower than it was in 2011 when it was 798 and in 2010 when it was 760. Thomas said the statistics for 2009-2011 show there was nothing unusual about criminal behavior in 2013. The number of offenders charged in 2013 was 449, higher than the 2012 figure of 392 but lower than the three prior years when it was 499 (2011), 494 (2010) and 457 (2009). Thomas said the five-year trend from 2009-2013 seems to indicate criminal conduct has not changed substantially.
“I don’t think it’s an increase [in crime] if you look at the overall trends,” he said. “As with almost all law enforcement agencies, we see crime increase, somewhat, during recessions or difficult times.”
Thomas said he only possesses crime data dating back to 2009 because that was when the police department acquired a computer program called “All Points,” which records the statistics automatically for easy retrieval. The computer system the police used before then did not keep track of this information.
The published statistics reveal a noticeable drop in traffic citations and the number of motor vehicle accidents from 2012 to 2013. The police investigated 252 motor vehicle accidents in 2012 and 232 in 2013, a decrease of 8 percent. Traffic citations fell from 954 in 2012 to 900 in 2013, a drop of 6 percent. Thomas said part of the reduction in traffic citations was due to officers spending more time investigating criminal activity, leaving less time to enforce traffic laws. However, that is not the whole story. He said converting Burlington Avenue from four lanes to three lanes in 2009 seems to be responsible for reducing accidents in the past few years.
“It is fair to say the time we spend on traffic enforcement suffers if the officers are busy on criminal investigations,” Thomas began. “With that being said, I don’t think traffic enforcement was the big contributor to the reduction in accidents. This is an educated guess only, but the switch on Burlington Avenue from four lanes to three lanes appears to have decreased a number of accidents on this busy street. This was a major issue because many accidents were caused when drivers were switching lanes on the four lanes and didn’t see traffic ahead slowing or stopping. The new three lanes have slowed travel time through town but positively affected the number of accidents on Burlington Avenue.”