Troubling trend hits home

Increase in criminal activity mirrors national reports

Reports of crimes – including violent crime – are up this year in Lawrence.

More people have reported robberies, rapes and assaults than in 2005, according to statistics Lawrence police have submitted to the FBI. And the year isn’t over yet.

Although the reasons for the jump in reported crime are hazy, this much is certain: The number of reported crimes – especially violent crimes – is up across the board, mirroring national statistics.

And that’s counting crimes reported during only the first nine months of 2006.

Sgt. Dan Ward of the Lawrence Police Department said differences in reporting procedures, population increases and other reasons could affect reported crime. Still, he said, crime reports have climbed, and police are concerned.

Reported crimes from the first nine months of 2006 already eclipse totals from all of 2005 in several areas. Depending on the volume of criminal activity reported in the past three months, the number of total reported crimes in Lawrence could reach a five-year high.

The previous high was last year’s total of 9,417 reported crimes. There were 9,351 reported crimes in the first nine months of 2006.

Violent crimes up

Some violent crime reports have increased.

Robberies have jumped from 49 last year to 58 through September 2006. Sixteen of those 49 robberies in 2005 happened after Oct. 1.

If the last three months mirror that pace, it would put the 2006 total around 74 – the highest single-year total of the past five years.

Several other violent crimes also have increased, including rape, aggravated assault and simple assault – all by similar margins, data show.

Ward said that even with the rise in crime this year, he thought Lawrence is still a safe place to live and work.

Adequate staffing

City Attorney Scott Miller said resources in general are a concern to the city, and the police department works to make sure its officers are used as effectively as possible.

When fully staffed, the department has between nine and 16 officers patrolling a city of almost 90,000. On busy nights and weekends, several patrol officers are stationed downtown on foot or in patrol cars during night hours.

Other city departments have demands as well, Miller said, and there is only so much money to go around.

“Obviously, more resources for any department of the city results in a better product,” Miller said.

City Manager Dave Corliss said the city views adequate police staffing as one of its most important responsibilities.

“Clearly, the safety of the community is an essential city service,” Corliss said. “It’s something we’re not going to take for granted.”

Two sergeant positions were created to supervise a unit that will include school resource officers and a new neighborhood resource detail, which will work with neighbors to help address crimes like robbery and vandalism.

Two officers will be assigned to the detail, which is slated to begin after the new year.

Also, 10 recruits from a new academy class are in training and likely will be ready for patrol duty in the first quarter of next year.

Incomplete picture

Some increases in crime reports, however, are not necessarily the result of more crimes being committed, Ward said.

The increases in disorderly conduct and simple battery reports are due, in part, to officers documenting the crimes more accurately, he said.

Lawrence also is growing, Ward said, with “an increasing population of citizens who demand a responsive police department.”

Still, reported crime statistics are not always an accurate picture of actual crime in a city – especially domestic crimes that happen behind closed doors.

“It isn’t something that law enforcement can always resolve,” said Sarah Terwelp, executive director of Women’s Transitional Care Services.

From January to September of this year, WTCS has served 559 survivors of domestic violence – only 214 of whom contacted law enforcement, Terwelp said.

At GaDuGi Safe Center, which provides rape-victim survivor services, only about one-third of women seeking help have reported a crime to the police, said Megan Mecomber, an advocate at the center.

Although the center didn’t have exact numbers for this year, Mecomber said more women have been reporting sexual assaults that have occurred in the past and are seeking counseling.