Following the hiring of Police Chief Charles “Chuck” Kimble on Sept. 1, violent crime in Killeen — a constant cause for concern for residents — has been in a tailspin.
Statistics from the department provided to the Killeen City Council Tuesday showed an almost across-the-board decrease in violent crime incidents since Kimble’s arrival with the city.
Among those, aggravated assaults are down almost 50 percent year to date from Jan. 1 to March 18 with 52 incidents reported and robberies were down 35 percent with 40 incidents reported.
Killeen murders, following a record year for criminal homicides with 18 in 2017, have hit rock bottom with only one reported criminal homicide in 2018. Killeen police already have a suspect in that case.
In six months, Kimble has overseen a sweeping monthlong drug task force, redesigned his command staff and — perhaps most importantly — been a staple at community events.
The effects of Kimble’s policy on sweeping the streets and spurring community involvement is already being felt at the neighborhood level. On Thursday, a newly formed neighborhood watch program for the Marlboro Heights neighborhood in north Killeen saw around 25 visitors, a small victory in a citywide push to get residents more engaged.
But will Kimble’s strategy translate into a lasting decrease in crime?
One figure jumps out from the police department’s presentation to the council Tuesday: 46 — the number of violent crime incidents reported in the month of February.
That figure is the lowest amount reported in any month in the past two years, as the city experienced an uptick in crime incidents after a 20-year low in 2015.
According to KPD, the next lowest month during that period was March 2016, with 51 reported incidents.
The most violent incidents reported in a single month during that span was 123 in May 2017.
Violent crimes include murder, rape, aggravated assault and robbery. Nonviolent crimes the department highlighted in its presentation were burglaries, auto theft and larceny.
Beneath the department’s statistics are overarching trends that could help quell — or support — resident concerns over violent crime.
First, Killeen’s violent crime rates have mirrored a nationwide drop in violent crime over the last 20 years.
The city’s “Part 1” crime rate in 2016 was around 3,800 incidents per 100,000 residents. In 2002, the crime rate was a reported 7,000 incidents per 100,000 residents — the highest rate on record in 27 years. Part 1 crimes include violent and nonviolent felonies.
Kimble said residents feared an overall trend of violent crime increasing, but he hasn’t seen that trend in his figures.
“There’s a lot of talk about the fear of crime — but that’s not supported by the stats,” he said. “I’m responsible to get the truth out there. This is not an unsafe city.”
However, resident fears over a bump in violent crime in 2017, spurred in part by a record 22 homicides (18 of them criminal), is reflected in the data.
In 2016, the crime rate was around 3,400 incidents per 100,000 residents. In 2017, that rate jumped to 3,700. On sheer volume, Part 1 calls jumped from around 5,000 in 2016 to 5,400 in 2017.
Kimble admitted there hasn’t been a significant decrease in crime volume over the last few years.
“Pretty much crime has stayed the same, but the population has gone up,” he said.
What the department’s presentation doesn’t outline is where the city’s crime is occurring and what type of criminal is committing those crimes.
To help answer those questions, the city of Killeen announced a partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs in December 2017 to create a crime reduction strategy by examining the city’s crime environment, evaluating response methods and developing proactive approaches to achieve results.
The study is ongoing, and the department expects an update in around a month.
According to Kimble, the department has taken a multi-faceted approach to leaning on available statistics, going after repeat offenders and cleaning up areas of the city that have developed into open sores for crime.
Step one was beginning to change the department’s professional culture, Kimble said.
“This department was in transition and weren’t talking about crime,” he said. “I came in and said ‘guys, we are in the crime business, and we need to focus here.’”
One month into his tenure, Kimble launched an ambitious task force that lasted the month of October — rounding up repeat offenders in often very public raids with multiple SWAT vehicles and police clad in military-style body armor.
The initiative drew front-page headlines when Killeen officers used explosive charges during an Oct. 25 no-knock raid on a home in the 900 block of Bur Oak Drive in which a 9-year-old girl was in the home.
Killeen police spokeswoman Ofelia Miramontez said the SWAT team knew that the girl was inside, and took it into consideration when the raid was planned.
“We take the necessary steps to keep everybody safe, one of the first things I did when I got here was evaluate the SWAT team ... Make sure they’re doing everything to standards,” Kimble said in November. ”I found it acceptable. I’m glad no one was physically hurt in this situation, Though nobody was physically hurt, there may be some emotional scarring, but trust me, we don’t look to intentionally hurt anybody.”
That raid netted 19-year-old Ryan O’Neal, who was found guilty on a theft of a firearm charge and sentenced to 16 months in state prison Jan. 26.
A month later, Ryan O’Neal’s sister, Alexis, was arrested March 1 on federal charges of “addict in possession of a firearm” after streaming a video through Facebook Live with smoking marijuana and holding a loaded gun while threatening to commit two murders, according to her arrest affidavit.
Kimble pointed to both those arrests Tuesday as evidence of the department’s willingness to go after criminals and take “creative approaches” to get local criminals into federal custody.
Kimble has also directed his force to seek and clean out areas of town that have become hot beds for drugs and criminal activity.
One of those areas, Kimble said Tuesday, was a transient site behind the KFC on East Veterans Memorial Boulevard.
“It was really a ‘city’ where people were evading police,” Kimble said. “We went in and cleaned that up.”
Despite the gains, Kimble said lasting change on crime has to start at the neighborhood level.
Tammy Moseley, the department’s crime prevention coordinator, made an appearance Thursday before a group of around 25 at the Marlboro Heights neighborhood watch meeting at the Anderson Chapel AME Church.
Moseley, who Kimble said has been “just about as busy as I am,” outlined the number of monthly calls street by street in the neighborhood and offered tips on how to prevent common property crimes and how residents can keep themselves and their neighbors safe.
“You need to take care of each other,” Moseley said to the residents at the neighborhood crime meeting. “We know Killeen is very transient but you need to get to know your neighbors.”
Despite fear over possible crime, the watch meeting had a hopeful tone with leaders applauding those who showed up and pleading with everyone to bring a friend to the next monthly meeting.
Councilwoman Debbie Nash-King, the host of the event, said it was crucial for residents to take ownership of keeping crime out of their neighborhoods.
“We’re stronger together,” she said. “The only way we’re going to get to where we want to go is holding these meetings and getting the word out.”
On Tuesday, Kimble backed that idea — saying productive community partnership would help form the backbone of Killeen’s policing in the future.
If we improve our relationship with the community, it provides a safer community,” he said. “We cannot arrest our way out of crime. There is not enough space in Bell County jail. We know that we have partners that are helping us. When they see something, they do something and when they hear something, they say something.”