By Victor O'Brien
Killeen Daily Herald
Killeen improved its public safety ranking over last year in an annual report of U.S. cities released last week, but statistically, it remains the fifth most dangerous city in Texas ,with the highest burglary rate in the state.
According to a report by publishers of Congressional Quarterly magazine, Killeen ranked as the United States' 272nd safest city for 2006. Conversely, the city appears as the 107th most dangerous city in the nation, an improvement from ranking No. 104 in the 2005 report.
Killeen is the fifth most dangerous city in Texas, behind only Dallas, Houston, Longview and Beaumont, respectively, according to the CQ Press' 14th annual City Crime Rankings.
During the holiday week, Councilman Juan Rivera was available to offer a few comments about the state of crime in Killeen.
"I am concerned because citizens look for public safety and I continue saying that public safety should be one of the most important areas in the city," he said.
"Being number one in burglary is nothing to feel proud about," Rivera said about the burglary statistics.
Several groups of repeat offenders who dedicate themselves to certain types of crime are part of the problem, Rivera said.
Rivera has not yet had the opportunity to discuss the most recent ranking with Police Chief Dennis Baldwin.
The rankings are based on the FBI's Uniform Crime Report (UCR), an annual collection of statistics reported by each city for eight different crime categories: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson.
Supportive of Congressional Quarterly's findings, the UCR statistics show that the crime rates for both violent offenses and property crimes were down for 2006.
Last year, Killeen's population grew by 4,535 residents, and the incidences of robbery, burglary, motor vehicle theft and arson also increased. Declines were seen in forcible rape, aggravated assault and larceny.
For 2006, Killeen's rate of violent crime per 1,000 residents was 7.64, down from 8.18 the previous year. The rate of property crime per 1,000 residents was 53.08, down from 59.49 in 2005. Statistically, that means that in any group of 1,000 people roughly 53 of them would have reported a property crime during the year.
In comparison to other Texas cities with a minimum population of 100,000, Killeen's violent crime rate was the seventh highest of 28 cities, immediately behind Waco. Yet in terms of population, Killeen is 25th in size. Dallas finished first with nearly five more violent crimes per 1,000 than Killeen. For 2007, Killeen has already recorded 11 murders.
Police Chief Dennis Baldwin was unavailable for comment during the holiday week. However, public information coordinator Carroll Smith said Baldwin planned to address the reports and crime rates – particularly burglary – this week.
Mayor Timothy Hancock said mid-week that he had not read the Congressional Quarterly report because of a busy holiday week at his business.
Hancock said he will meet with Baldwin and City Manager Connie Green to discuss Killeen's crime rate this week.
Of particular concern to Rivera and part of what Baldwin is expected to address this week is that Killeen has the highest burglary rate of all Texas cities.
As a whole, property crimes saw a significant drop from 2005; yet, the number of burglaries continued to increase.
There were 391 fewer property crimes including burglaries, larceny theft, stolen motor vehicles and arsons. The most noteworthy decrease was 536 fewer incidents of larceny.
Despite the overall improvement in property crime statistics, there were 50 more burglaries in 2006 (2,121) than in 2005 (2,071) but that figure is double the number of burglaries in Killeen in 2000 (1,037) when the population was 18,388 less.
As a result, Killeen has the highest burglary rate among Texas cities with a population of more than 100,000.
Killeen's burglary rate (20.58) is nearly double Austin's rate (10.52) and San Antonio's (11.32) and is significantly higher than Waco's (17.66).
Though there were 50 more burglaries in Killeen than in 2005, the likelihood of an individual being burglarized decreased since the population growth barely outpaced the burglary rate. The burglary rate decreased by half a point from 2005 (21.02) to 2006 (20.58).
The rising number of burglaries is a particular concern to Rivera, a former law enforcement officer who specialized in burglary investigations.
"Burglary is a crime where most of the people are repeat offenders. One person can be responsible for 10 or 15 actions," Rivera said.
Even more alarming for Rivera is that a burglary often can lead to another crime.
He said burglars often enter a building without knowing who is already inside and a person who is home during a burglary could also find themselves the victim of a sexual assault or another crime.
Though Rivera is concerned, he is confident the Killeen Police Department is doing what it can to stop crime in Killeen. He said part of the issue is that the department needs more officers.
"People might say that adding more police officers is not the issue, but it is the issue. We need to concentrate and make sure we have the right manpower and the right training," Rivera said.
A look at the numbers of officers and the crime rate in 2006 show that Rivera might be on to something.
The same time the city added 18 officers in 2006, the people of Killeen were less likely to become the victim of a crime.
Another such officer increase is scheduled for 2008. KPD received funding from the city for 17 new officers and two evidence technicians.
According to the city's 2007-08 preliminary budget review, the breakdown for the new officers includes four downtown walking officers, four patrol officers, four officers on motorcycles and five detectives to investigate crime trends.
Each group of new officers has a particular focus.
The four downtown officers will focus on property damage and theft, drugs and prostitution. The five detectives will work on responding to crime trends, the review said.
The estimated cost for the new officers was $1,059,590, not including the civilian evidence technicians. The bulk of the money, $396,590, will be spent on the five detectives and $297,088 on the four motorcycle officers.
The CQ Press also ranks metropolitan areas, but the Killeen- Temple-Fort Hood area was omitted because Temple did not meet the reporting requirements for forcible rape in its UCR reporting.
Contact Victor O'Brien at email@example.com or call (254)501-7468