Editorial: Rise in crime worrisome

The rise in violent crime is a concerning trend in Douglas County.

The KBI’s annual Crime Index Report compiles crime statistics reported to the KBI by local and state law enforcement agencies across Kansas, which are submitted through the Kansas Incident Based Reporting System. According to the statistics from the latest KBI report, violent crimes in Douglas County increased by 32 percent from 2015 to 2016, going from 281 to 370. Violent crimes are crimes that involve the use of physical force against another person. Examples include murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault/battery.

Most concerning is the increases in aggravated assault. Incidents of aggravated assault increased 54 percent from 155 in 2015 to 239 in 2016.

Douglas County’s violent crime rate of 3.3 incidents per 1,000 people gives Douglas County the 18th highest violent crime rate among Kansas’ 105 counties. Douglas County’s violent crime rate is higher than the rates in Johnson, Riley and Reno counties.

The rise in violent crime is one reason for crowding in the Douglas County Jail. Those charged with violent crimes tend to face higher bonds and thus spend longer periods of time in jail than those charged with lesser offenses. The Douglas County Jail, which can accommodate 187 inmates, averaged 238 inmates per day in 2016, forcing the county to spend millions to house inmates in nearby jails and to work on possible solutions, which may include building a larger jail that could cost millions.

What is particularly frustrating is the rise in violent crime is occurring at a time when overall crime is on the decline. The total number of crimes in Douglas County dropped 3.7 percent from 4,173 in 2015 to 4,020 in 2016. That’s consistent with bookings at the county jail, which declined almost 10 percent from 2014 to 2016.

Law enforcement officials have theorized that much of the violent crime increase stems from an increase in robberies and assaults targeting drug dealers.

“When you think about the sale of narcotics, you think of money, drugs and guns,” Lawrence Police Capt. Anthony Brixius said recently. “Those things have value for a person associated with criminal activity. I certainly can’t say it would account for all of the increase, but I would agree that robberies of houses associated with narcotic deals are pretty common.”

Gregory Burns Jr. takes over Oct. 1 as Lawrence’s police chief. Burns is coming to Lawrence from Louisville, Ky., where he commands the Louisville Metro Police Department’s Support Bureau, which includes major crimes, narcotics, community services and special operations.

Hopefully, working in a market that is significantly larger than Lawrence (Louisville has 1.2 million people in its metro area) has given Burns the experience and knowledge necessary to help reverse recent trends.

Douglas County can ill afford to see violent crime trends continue to increase at double-digit rates. Law enforcement officials from every agency should work together to develop strategies for reducing such crime.