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Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Feb 24, 2018

Fairfield crime rate steady

By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | Jan 23, 2018
The graph above shows the trend in arrests on top and the trend in outstanding warrants below. Though arrests remained stable in 2017, outstanding warrants shot up. Fairfield Police Chief David Thomas said it has to do with law enforcement encountering transient criminals who flee the area after committing crimes.

Fairfield Police Chief David Thomas shared the most up-to-date statistics on crime and traffic to the Fairfield City Council at its meeting Monday.

Crime in general seems to have been steady during the past nine years, which is how long the department has kept detailed records of it. For instance, the number of arrests in 2017 was 550, a little above the nine-year average of 538. The number of assaults was 50, close to the nine-year average of 54.

Other 2017 stats followed by their averages since 2009 were: Domestic assaults 36 (27 average); sexual assaults 10 (11); burglaries 114 (100), thefts 226 (226); vandalism 72 (79); operating while intoxicated 17 (33); controlled substance violations 66 (63); and gun charges 6 (4).

Though the number of arrests was about the same, the number of charges was as high as it’s ever been. There were 823 charges brought in 2017, above the average of 718. Thomas said it’s a testament to his officers getting better at investigations, and being able to link crimes committed in Fairfield to crimes committed in other jurisdictions, leading to more charges.

Outstanding warrants

One of the categories that was unusually high was outstanding warrants. These are warrants that Fairfield police have issued but no arrest has been made. Their nine-year average was 134, and were as low as 138 in 2016 before jumping to 251 in 2017.

What happened? That was the question councilor Paul Gandy posed to Thomas at Monday’s meeting. He wondered if the police department had changed the way it was measuring outstanding warrants. Thomas said it was not an accounting fluke. He attributed the sudden rise in outstanding warrants to an increase in transient crime.

“There is a trend among criminals to travel from one state to another once they are known to law enforcement,” he said. “We’re seeing more people with active warrants from other states, but they don’t want to come all the way to Iowa to get them.”

Thomas explained that not all warrants are created equally. For minor crimes like misdemeanors, law enforcement tends to issue warrants that apply to Jefferson County and all bordering counties. But if a subject is arrested several counties away, say in Polk County, Thomas said it’s not worth the trouble to send a deputy to extradite them to Jefferson County. In that case, the Polk County officer would let the subject go.

Serious and aggravated misdemeanors usually prompt statewide warrants. Felonies often include border states, too. Serious felonies, such as robberies, sexual abuse, assault causing substantial injury, and murder, carry nationwide warrants.

The law enforcement agency that brought the charges has the final say over the warrant. Thomas said officers get input from the victim and from the county attorney about what level of warrant to issue.

The sheriff’s office is responsible for transporting suspects who have been arrested on an outstanding warrant.

 

Traffic stops

A category well below its historic average was traffic stops. The department conducted 2,431 traffic stops in 2015, which fell by 500 the following year, and fell by that same amount again in 2017 when it dropped to 1,457.

Why so many fewer stops? Thomas said it had to do with the department hiring five officers in 2017 and spending time training them. New officers need to ride along with other officers for three months, plus they have to attend the police academy in Des Moines for four months. That means a new officer must work for seven months before they venture out on their own.

Thomas said he expects traffic stops to rise in 2018 because more officers will be working independently. One of the things he wants to focus on is traffic education, particularly on Burlington Avenue. Many people wrongly assume that there is a separate right-turning lane on Burlington at intersections such as Second Avenue.

Thomas said he wants to put a stop to that to increase safety for pedestrians and cyclists crossing the road there. Traffic accidents have risen the past three years, from 163 in 2014 to 234 last year. Thomas said it’s hard to say if the rise in accidents is related to the decline in traffic stops because there are so many variables that figure into traffic accidents. “It’s hard to deter them, because people don’t get into accidents on purpose,” Thomas said. “Most of what we can do is stopping vehicles and educating the drivers. We’ll say, ‘Hey, what you did was against the law, and here’s why we’re enforcing it.’”

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