Lawrence Police Chief Tarik Khatib calls it losing the middle ground.
“To me the trend in financial crimes and forgery has become the new petty crime in Lawrence as opposed to theft,” he said. “There’s a lot of abuse of credit cards and financial instruments.”
Khatib said it could be driven by the prevalence of more people using debit and credit cards now as opposed to cash and by more purchases made over the Internet, all resulting in more opportunities for criminals.
As part of his current request to city officials for more positions, equipment upgrades and a new police facility, Khatib has drawn attention to the city’s crime rate when compared with a group of 27 other similar cities across the country, including Overland Park, Olathe, Norman, Okla., and Lincoln, Neb.
In the 2010 survey, Lawrence had the highest rate of property, financial and nuisance crime cases at 12.5 per 1,000 residents. The average among all the cities was 4.3 crimes per 1,000 residents. And Lawrence’s clearance rate in those areas was only 14.9 percent compared with the 21 percent average among all cities.
“I’m basically saying the police department doesn’t really have the capacity to take on investigation of those crimes without doing one of two things: either getting more resources to apply to it or cutting something else to try to get back to it,” he said.
Khatib said the situation is a product of the department’s workload. The same survey found the Lawrence department was handling 370 calls per officer compared with an average of 323 calls per officer. He believes the department is effective in solving high-profile and major cases such as homicides and shootings, and also managing the 50 to 70 events, such as parades, athletic and cultural events, in the city each year.
But that also comes at a price in solving certain types of crimes that don’t often get headlines. Still, the fraud and forgery crimes that might involve the Internet or a suspect from far away are much more complex than thefts reported years ago, he said. The department’s fraud and forgery investigator was absorbed 10 years ago because of patrol needs.
“The same amount of cases and the same amount of calls take more people to do,” Khatib said. “A patrol officer is doing the lion’s share of that on top of everything else. They constantly get interrupted.”
City Commissioner Hugh Carter said that as the city seeks to market itself to attract more retirees, it would be crucial to combat forgery, fraud and theft crimes. But he said the department’s staffing levels for officers doesn’t put it in position to be proactive on those types of crimes.
“This is a crime that is on the rise dramatically. It is predominantly seniors that are targeted,” Carter said. “I think it’s critical that we get on top of that, and I know that his staffing requests would give him the resources to do so.”
Earlier this month Khatib provided a memo to city commissioners that says the effects of the staffing levels stretch beyond the department’s limited ability to respond to fraud and forgery calls. He said safety concerns include not responding to some medical emergencies and sending one unit to an alarm.
Others could present more of an inconvenience for the public: not responding to loose animal calls when no animal control officer is on duty or holding non-emergency calls during busy times. When bars close, police often can’t respond to noise complaints during peak times, he said.
Khatib also said that in the future, the department could look at things like not responding to traffic accidents on private property; even less investigation into fraud and forgery cases; reduce the number of school resource officers from six to four; folding the department’s traffic unit back into patrol; and changing in how the department handles special events such as half-marathons and parades, including the city possibly denying permits because of a lack of resources to handle the event.
Khatib said it would be a difficult decision because he has also focused on community policing and stressed the importance of interactions with the public.
“There is a danger here in that it will reduce the number of nonconfrontational interactions between officers and those they serve,” he said. “These types of interactions are important for the well-being and relationship of citizens and officers.”
City staff members earlier this month provided commissioners with a cost estimate of $30 million to cover a new police facility and $12 million to add 46 police positions over the next four years.
Carter said Friday he hoped city staff members this week could provide information about what a new facility that would cost about 20 percent less at $24 million to $26 million and spreading the staffing increase over seven years instead of four. He also said he hoped funding could come largely through a sales tax, but after the state’s sales tax rate is reduced in 2013 to offset any potential increase.
“I do believe this commission will step up and address it, but exactly how, I don’t know,” he said.
City Manager David Corliss as part of his budget recommendation for next year included three new police positions, and he said the city wants to reopen exploring if other agencies would be interested in sharing a new police facility, like the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and Kansas University Public Safety Office.
Sheriff Ken McGovern has said there are other issues for his department to consider because if they moved into a new facility, his department would likely still be split among the jail in east Lawrence, the new facility and court security at the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center downtown.