By Victor O'Brien
Killeen Daily Herald
Killeen's police chief last week revealed plans to decrease crime in 2008 to the City Council after reports placed Killeen as Texas's fifth-most violent city and the state's burglary capital.
Police Chief Dennis Baldwin has a multi-dimensional approach to decrease not just burglary but all crime in Killeen.
Burglary represented 84 percent of all Killeen's reported crime in 2006, and Killeen has led the state in burglary since 2002, said Baldwin, who became police chief in 2004.
"As chief of police, I inherited the burglary problem and as chief of police, it is my responsibility to fix it," Baldwin said.
Councilwoman Claudia Brown was impressed by the chief's candor during his presentation Tuesday, but she was surprised the department had not responded to the burglary problem earlier.
"It was surprising because I would think if you were number one in the state, a red flag should have gone up much sooner," Brown said.
Despite Killeen's growing population, Baldwin is optimistic that crime will go down.
Decreasing crime "is difficult to achieve in a growing community, but it can and will be done."
During the meeting, Baldwin reported that violent crimes were down 3.31 percent and nonviolent crimes were down 9 percent in 2006, but the total number of burglaries increased to 2,121.
Baldwin attributed the decrease to greater resources and the community joining together.
"I think there is more of an awareness about crime in Killeen than ever before," said Baldwin, a Killeen resident for 24 years.
Killeen is still not where it needs to be, and part of the reason is the burglary rate, Baldwin said.
In November, a Congressional Quarterly report ranked Killeen as Texas' fifth-most violent city. Statistics from the FBI's Uniform Crime Report showed that Killeen has the highest burglary rate of Texas cities.
Baldwin is adamant 2008 will be a watershed year, but he does not think crime has dropped significantly in 2007.
"I don't believe we'll see any significant decrease in crime until 2008. I think we'll probably hold our own for 2007 ...," Baldwin said.
A focus on burglary
Baldwin's optimism stems from several recent changes.
In November, the Killeen Police Department started a burglary unit made up of several detectives and a youth services unit, whose sole purpose is to investigate burglaries.
"Their focus is strictly on the burglary problem. We were able to do that because of the detectives we added in 2006 and 2007 budget years," Baldwin said.
The burglary unit makes up nearly half of the property unit, which has nearly doubled to 13 since 2004 after decades without an increase in officers, Baldwin said.
The council's support and the department's increased budget in 2006 and 2007 made six new detectives and the burglary unit possible, Baldwin said.
Near the middle of 2007, a burglary working group was started to unite different KPD departments for information sharing and crime trend discussions.
Also, Baldwin said 14 officers recently completed the academy and are part of the reason he expects crime to decrease in 2008.
The department's struggles with burglary are partly self-inflicted because of low staffing levels, which were not diagnosed as a problem until the department added CompStat in 2004, Baldwin said.
CompStat uses statistics to map crimes and paint a picture of a city's crime. The program is widely used in various forms at departments across the nation.
"It basically tells you where and when the problems are occurring, then you dedicate the resources. It deals with improving quality of life, not just crime, but traffic and loud noise," Baldwin said.
CompStat showed a shortage of personnel in various areas, specifically the property unit.
"I don't think we'd have as high of a burglary rate if we'd kept our staffing levels up where we should have," Baldwin said.
Since 2005, Baldwin has increased staffing among patrol officers and the criminal investigations division, which houses the property unit.
The department increased both patrol officers and detectives to make sure there are not only enough patrol officers to catch criminals in the act but also enough detectives to follow up on the crimes, Baldwin said.
Councilwoman Brown is concerned about how the department follows up on crimes. Brown said her neighbor was burglarized in February, and Brown used investigation training she received to gather evidence for KPD.
However, Brown said that when she checked into the burglary months later, none of the evidence she submitted was added to the case file and no subsequent investigation occurred.
The increases in officers should allow the department to investigate crimes better, Baldwin said.
Also, KPD has reassigned positions to put more officers on the street, Baldwin said.
"For years, a lot of positions that officers were doing, civilians could do cheaper and as well," Baldwin said. "We were able to put those badges in enforcement or investigations where they belong."
Even though Baldwin sees a crime problem in Killeen, he disputed recent rankings because the UCR listed Killeen's population as 103,073, which Baldwin said is considered low by city officials.
Baldwin believes the population is between 112,000 and 115,000.
If Killeen's population were higher than reported by the UCR, Killeen's crime rate and possibly the ranking in comparison to other cities would fall.
City Planner Andrew Allemand agreed that the UCR's number was low.
"Our city population right now is probably around 110,000 to 112,000," Allemand said.
The UCR takes census data from 2000 and 2005 to approximate annual population, but it is only an estimate.
"That's the weird thing about census numbers because they are always conservative in the interim (between each census)," Allemand said.
Baldwin added that KPD serves a higher population because people visit Killeen from other communities such as Fort Hood and Copperas Cove, but they are not included in the population figure.
Baldwin also said the officer increases in the UCR report do not accurately reflect the actual number of officers, which varies throughout the year based on turnover and when officers complete the academy. Therefore, no defined correlation exists between the reported officer increase in 2006 and the crime drop that occurred the same year.
He said other variables affect crime, such as increased population, added patrolling area and the size of beat areas. Baldwin said that by adding more officers in the past several years, he has decreased the size of beat areas so officers have smaller areas in which to fight crime.
The 2007 murder rate
In 2007, the number of murders increased to 11 from eight in 2006.
"Murders fluctuate. I wouldn't say there is any one reason for it," Baldwin said.
He said Killeen usually averages about eight, but two double homicides have increased this year's total.
Baldwin said the best way to fight murders and violent crimes is to bring the suspects to justice.
"I think we could be more aggressive in capturing and bringing them to justice. That's a good deterrent," Baldwin said.
Also, a high burglary rate indirectly could affect the murder rate, Baldwin said. For example, a burglary escalated to a murder if the homeowner was present.
However, most burglaries are committed while the homeowner is away, Baldwin said.
Youths and crime
The police chief does not believe Killeen's youths or any specific group makes the city more prone to crime.
"I don't think you can say it is all juvenile or all adults. It is a little bit of everything," he said.
Baldwin added, "It's a very small segment of this community that is doing most of the crime, but it's hard to weed through all the population and pull those people out."
Burglary has the second-highest repeat offender rate, Baldwin said.
Councilman Juan Rivera said youth criminals pose a different problem in punishment. Stiff punishments are hard to achieve through the juvenile system.
Baldwin agreed that effectively punishing youth criminals is difficult for that reason.
After all the changes made, 2008 will be the year to watch, Baldwin said.
"Overall, I think with those resources hitting the ground, the position of the police department is better today than it has ever been," Baldwin said.
"I'd be surprised if we look back at 2008 and are disappointed at the results."
Contact Victor O'Brien at email@example.com or call (254)501-7468