How much is violent crime up in Douglas County? Either a lot or very little, depending on which statistics you look at

A Lawrence police car sits outside a crime scene in this file photo from 2009.

The outburst of violence that left three people dead Oct. 1 on Massachusetts Street provides a vivid focal point of violent crime last year in Douglas County.

The three victims were among the nine homicide deaths recorded in the county last year. The deaths likely are also the most visible reminder that violent crime was up in Douglas County last year.

That much is agreed upon. Stating how much violent crime was up, however, gets trickier.

As part of the educational effort related to the countywide sales tax referendum, a county-produced brochure says violent crime in Douglas County is up 101 percent from the end of 2013 to 2017.

But the Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s Violent Crime Index reports that from 2014 to 2016, violent crime in Douglas County is basically unchanged. Numbers for 2017 aren’t yet part of the KBI’s index. However, for comparison purposes, Douglas County says violent crime increased 32 percent from 2014 to 2016.

Clearly, the KBI and county statistics don’t match up.

Getting the numbers figured out is important because rising violent crime levels have been linked to the need for an expanded Douglas County Jail, which is one of the projects the proposed half-cent sales tax now before voters would fund.

Jail proponents have said violent crime increases overcrowding at the jail because those inmates charged with violent crimes are less likely to be released on bond, and their cases take longer to get through the judicial system.

Both Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson and Sheriff Ken McGovern back the county’s 101 percent claim, saying violent crime has become a growing problem in the community.

KBI crime index

KBI violent crime index

Kansas

2014 – 9,529

2016 – 11,041

Violent crime per 1,000 residents:

2014 – 3.2

2016 – 3.7

Douglas County

Violent crime total:

2014 – 372

2016 – 370 (excludes Eudora)

Per 1,000 residents:

2014 – 3.2

2016 – 3.3 (excludes Eudora)

Johnson County

Violent crime total:

2014 – 789

2016 – 932

Per 1,000 residents:

2014 – 1.4

2016 – 1.6

Riley County

Violent crimes (total of murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assault and battery):

2014 – 179

2016 – 189

Violent crime per 1,000 residents:

2014 – 2.3

2016 – 2.5

Shawnee County

Violent crimes (total of murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assault and battery):

2014 – 738

2016 – 815

Violent crime per 1,000 residents:

2014 – 4.1

2016 – 4.6

Wyandotte County

Violent crimes (total of murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assault and battery):

2014 – 927

2016 – 1,023

Violent crime per 1,000 residents:

2014 – 5.8

2016 – 6.3

The numbers

By the KBI’s numbers, violent crime in Douglas County has increased at a rate less than the state as a whole. In 2014, there were 3.2 violent crimes per 1,000 people in Douglas County, according to the KBI. In 2016, the number rose slightly to 3.3 violent crimes per 1,000 people (Eudora didn’t report criminal offense numbers to the KBI in 2016, and its population wasn’t counted toward the per capital total).

Statewide, during the same time period, the rate jumped from 3.2 to 3.7 crimes per 1,000 people.

Compare that to the numbers put together by Branson. His office created a report showing the number of crimes against people. It showed a significant increase for 2017, while posting more modest increases in prior years. The number of cases filed for crimes against people were:

2014: 340

2015: 459

2016: 450

2017: 684

Branson is familiar with both sets of numbers. He said there are some significant differences between the KBI and county statistics.

The county’s numbers tracked cases that actually resulted in charges; the KBI crime index measures crimes reported to law enforcement, regardless of whether they resulted in arrests or court filings. That’s significant because indictments can be filed in the next calendar year or longer after a crime was reported, and one incident can lead to indictments against multiple defendants, Branson said.

Another big difference between the two sets of data is what is counted as a violent crime. Branson said the DA’s office includes more offenses in its definition of person crimes than those the KBI uses to compile its violent crime index, which counts only reports of murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault and battery. The DA’s office adds offenses that cause harm or threaten harm to a victim, such as stalking, criminal threat, indecent liberties with a child, sexual exploitation of a child and internet trading in child pornography.

Branson also acknowledged that some of the crimes counted in the county’s statistics are lesser offenses that are charged as misdemeanors. Those include first and second domestic abuse filings and some simple battery cases. Branson, though, said the majority of crimes counted in the county’s statistics were felony offenses.

Regional violent crime

In addition to maintaining that violent crime is increasing in Douglas County, Branson and McGovern say it is part of a trend that stretches from the Kansas City metropolitan area west to Topeka. That has an impact as criminal activity bleeds into Douglas County. That, in turn, contributes to jail overcrowding with nonresidents accounting for 30 percent of county jail inmates, they say.

The KBI index offers support that violent crime is increasing in the neighboring or nearby counties of Johnson, Shawnee and Wyandotte counties.

A preamble to the 2016 KBI crime index states that although the overall crime rate was trending downward in Kansas, violent crime was up with 11,041 offenses reported. That total was 10.25 percent more than the 10-year average. The KBI report attributes that to a spike in violent crime rates in metropolitan areas of more than 100,000 population.

In neighboring Shawnee County, the 815 offenses reported in the 2016 KBI violent crimes index was a 9 percent increase from the 746 reported in 2015, and a 10.4 percent increase from the 738 reported in 2013. The number of KBI violent offenses increased 18.1 percent in Johnson County, from 789 in 2014 to 932 in 2016. The KBI violent crime index offense in Wyandotte County increased from 927 crimes in 2014 to 1,023 in 2016, or 10.3 percent.

Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden said violent crime continues to climb in his county and has increased 28 percent in the last two years. The increase in violent crime cases in Johnson County District Court was having the same effect on the Johnson County jail as it was in Douglas County, he said. Those charged with violent crimes are staying in jail longer as their cases work their way through the legal process, he said.

The Johnson County jail regularly has 800 inmates on weekends, Hayden said. That’s well short of the jail’s 1,100-bed capacity, but enough that Hayden said he will open an unused 48- to 64-bed module to house the growing inmate population.

“It’s going to get worse,” he said. “When the weather heats up, our numbers are going to go up.”

Although Branson and McGovern say violent crime is increasing, they are less sure what is behind it. Both say the county’s population growth and abuse of meth and other hard drugs play roles. They also suggest a large part of the problem is attitude.

“I’ve contemplated this several times, and I can’t put my finger on any one thing,” Branson said. “There does seem to be a willingness for people to choose violence more than there was in the past.”

Hayden said the increase appeared to be a rebound from the dip in crime that occurred during the recession. The recession not only damped violent crime but also caused local law enforcement agencies to cut investigation units into drug activity and violent crime as cost-saving measures so they could keep officers on the street. The cuts haven’t been reversed, Hayden said.

The KBI crime index webpage has graphs that chart both the dip during the recession and the recent rebound. The four violent crimes in the KBI index fell from 11,444 in 2007 to a low for the last 10 years of 9,503 in 2013 before it started increasing once again, climbing to 11,041 in 2016.

McGovern said he has talked with Hayden a number of times about violent crimes and about the formation of a task force to combat it.

He was requesting the Johnson County Commission fund a task force, Hayden said, but he wanted it to be regional in scope.

“We have to get a handle of violent crime,” he said. “It needs to be a regional approach. I don’t want stepped up enforcement in Johnson County to chase criminal activity into Douglas County.”