By Victor O'Brien
Killeen Daily Herald
It may have been a different year, but it was roughly the same story for Killeen's burglary ranking in 2007.
Killeen had the highest burglary rate among cities with a population of 100,000 or higher in the 2007 Crime in Texas report released by the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Killeen averaged 22.6 burglaries per 1,000 residents, more than four burglaries higher than Dallas, which had the second-highest rate.
Also, in 2007, the burglary rate in Texas rose 4.1 percent, significantly higher than the rise experienced in Killeen.
The ranking was no surprise to Killeen Police Chief Dennis Baldwin. He predicted in December that Killeen would retain its No. 1 ranking, which it has received since 2002.
Turning the corner
The Crime in Texas 2007 report contained bad news for Killeen, but it was also old news. Baldwin believes the rankings reflect where Killeen was, not where the city is. He feels his department and the city have learned from errors of the past, and they turned a corner this year.
Baldwin said that the number of burglaries through September was down 28 percent compared to January through September 2007.
"We're still No. 1 in burglaries, but that's been changed already in 2008," Baldwin said. "It's one of those statistics that no one is proud to have ever obtained to begin with, but our goal was to reduce the number of burglaries in this community, and we have seen that goal achieved."
Killeen would rank fifth among Texas burglary rates if a projection of 1,670 burglaries, calculated based on the 28 percent decline experienced so far in 2008, holds steady. The fifth-place ranking also takes into account U.S. Census Bureau populations and not the totals used by the Crime in Texas report, which are outdated and do not reflect Killeen's exceptional growth, being the sixth-fastest growing metropolitan area in the nation, Baldwin said.
Baldwin credited alert residents reporting crimes, City Council budget support and the efforts of KPD's staff, specifically the detectives in the burglary unit, with erasing the distinction.
"The community has been phenomenal. We've had so many calls identifying suspicious activity from neighbors where police caught suspects at the scene or leaving the scene. That doesn't happen without watchful neighbors."
Killeen no longer receiving the top spot in the burglary rankings will be good news, but Baldwin wants to reduce the city's number of burglaries to the national average, which is a big challenge. Killeen's number more than triples the national average of 7.2 burglaries per 1,000 residents, as reported by the FBI's Uniform Crime report.
Reducing the number of burglaries by almost one-third in 2008 would be a good start. While the nation's burglary rate has declined since 1998, Killeen's rate has been rising since 2000. So has the population, due in part to the growth at Fort Hood since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"Population swelled so fast that there was a little bit of a catchup," Baldwin said.
Baldwin said he is uncertain if Killeen will reduce its number of burglaries to the national average because of Killeen's projected growth, which will be at 121,000 people by 2010, according to department estimates.
More than burglaries
While Killeen's burglary rate has drawn attention, KPD has focused on reducing crime across the board. KPD ranked in the top five of 28 cities in rates for murder, rape and violent crimes in 2007.
So far this year, violent crimes have held steady because of increases in robberies and aggravated assaults. Homicides are down from 12 in 2007, which was an aberration marked by a pair of double homicides.
Overall property crime has declined. A fuller picture of Killeen's crime totals will be presented to the City Council during's Baldwin's quarterly report at the end of October.
Baldwin said the department is in the process of implementing more strategies to keep burglary on the decline and to reduce overall crime, but he declined to outline them.
Contact Victor O'Brien at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7468.
Crime by the numbers
Killeen's Crime in Texas ranking in 2007 among 27 cities with population of at least 100,000 people
Aggravated assault: 7
Auto theft: 23
Violent crime: 8
Nonviolent crime: 14
Total crime: 13
Source: Crime in Texas 2007 report.
Killeen Police Department's rankings in 2007*
Aggravated assault: 7
Auto theft: 24
Violent crime: 8
Nonviolent crime: 16
Total crime: 16
*Note: The Killeen Police Department provided a separate set of rankings from the Crime in Texas rankings because the Crime in Texas report used outdated population totals that do not reflect the growth Killeen has experienced. The city is the sixth-fastest growing metropolitan area in the nation.