Lawrence’s interim police chief often mentions crime prevention and public education as a key component to reducing the city’s crime rate.
Tarik Khatib has emphasized the importance of police interacting with the public during his nearly four months leading the department.
“I do think there is probably a need for additional resources to address the crime problem, but that’s not the complete picture,” he said in an interview last month. “The complete picture also takes into account public education, what people can do to reduce crime themselves and environmental design.”
Khatib discussed Lawrence’s numbers in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports after an annual study by CQ Press in November ranked Lawrence as the 156th safest city in the country.
Tarik Khatib - Crime Index Questions ( .PDF )
The controversial rankings are calculated by population using six crime categories from the FBI’s report: motor vehicle theft, murder, rape, aggravated assault, robbery and burglary.
Lawrence ranked ahead of larger, more urban cities in the state. Topeka was listed as the 255th safest city compared with Wichita at 307th and Kansas City, Kan., at 369th out of 400 total cities. But Johnson County cities Overland Park (44th) and Olathe (49th) fared better in the rankings.
Khatib said the results are similar with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s crime indexes, but he also said Lawrence faces a unique situation in the state as a major university town.
“The activity extends into all hours of the night and draws individuals from other communities as well,” he said.
Lawrence compares more closely with other Big 12 university cities, like Norman, Okla., Boulder, Colo., and Columbia, Mo., but those cities also had lower crime rates.
In the CQ Press survey, Norman ranked as the 70th safest city, Boulder was 105th and Columbia was 143rd.
Khatib said crime indices are useful but they do have some caveats in comparisons. They depend on accurate population estimates for cities, and some crimes don’t fit into a certain category, like drunken driving, so they aren’t counted.
He does consider the numbers to be a concern, and he said department leaders do look at what those other cities are doing. For example, Norman, Okla., voters have approved a public safety sales tax that has included funding for additional officers and equipment.
Lawrence city leaders would need to make any decisions about additional police positions or resources, but Khatib said the department is now focusing on three areas:
• New recruitment tactics to more quickly fill positions affected by attrition.
• More education efforts to increase public awareness and minimize the chance of becoming a victim.
• Having the department give more input in environmental design of buildings, including better outside lighting, safer fencing or camera systems to help “reduce the atmosphere conductive to a crime occurring.”
Khatib has been serving as interim chief since September, when police chief Ron Olin retired from the department and became the director of security and internal controls for Kansas Athletics Inc.
City Manager David Corliss is conducting a national search for a new permanent chief. City leaders have said they expect internal candidates to be in the mix as well. Khatib has applied for the permanent position.