By Victor O'Brien
Killeen Daily Herald
As citizens and community leaders question the city's crime rate, all eyes are on the Killeen Police Department for answers and solutions.
The city ranked highest in Texas for burglaries per capita based on 2006 numbers, according to statistics from the Department of Public Safety released in 2007. Killeen was also ranked as the fifth most violent city in Texas by Congressional Quarterly in November.
However, four months into 2008, crime totals have dropped enough that Police Chief Dennis Baldwin believes 2006's rankings are older than yesterday's news.
"We're safer today than one year ago," Baldwin said in March.
He's been showing that to the Killeen City Council each month. After learning Killeen's burglary rate led the state, the council called for action. Baldwin began briefing the council monthly on current crime statistics in the city compared to a year ago.
Baldwin described the decline in burglaries, rapes and vehicle thefts as a "sharp reduction" that he expects will take Killeen off the list of most violent cities and the state leader in burglaries per capita.
Baldwin created a burglary unit near the end of 2007 to combat the burglary problem. The unit allowed detectives and officers to hone in on burglaries and suspects.
"It's allowed me to take a certain number of these detectives and let them focus on nothing but burglary investigations," said Sgt. Pat Turck, who directs the property crime division that includes the burglary unit.
"They don't work anything else, so they're not constantly getting bombarded by a variety of different property cases and a heavy case load. Their sole job is to investigate burglaries."
Detectives have been able to follow up on leads with greater efficiency and tenacity because it's their specific beat and they know the major players who are committing the burglaries.
"They know people involved. They know their associates, the vehicles they drive and the areas of town they operate in," Turck said.
Also, KPD has exercised aggressive tactics to curb overall crime in problem neighborhoods with higher calls for service. "Operation Blue Canopy" led to 64 arrests, 187 citations and 687 citizen contacts as of May 27, Baldwin said. The program has had two phases so far.
Phase II, currently in operation, includes Dunn Street, Veterans Memorial Boulevard, 24th Street and Gilmer Street. The area is considered a "no-tolerance zone," which means instead of verbal warnings, officers issue citations and make arrests.
Phase I included the area between 38th Street, Rancier Avenue, Diane Street and Tucker Street. That area is no longer a no-tolerance zone, but instead a high-density patrol area.
Baldwin said the aggressive tactics do not mean that crime is up – even the numbers show crime is down – but rather that KPD is being more aggressive in helping to build safer neighborhoods in high-crime areas.
"Every community of 100,000 is going to have hot spots they need to address with police resources," he said. "So while crime overall is down, that does not mean there are not crime problems in specific areas of this community."
Aggravated assaults also decreased from 195 last year to 186 during the same period in 2008.
The murder total, which was among the highest in a decade last year, was the only crime category not to decline in the first four months, but only because one man attacked in 2006 died in June 2007, and the case is listed as a 2008 murder because of when the indictments were finalized.
KPD has achieved measures of success despite a dramatic increase in calls-for-service in 2008. KPD had 3,896 more calls-for-service from January to April 2008 (43,645) compared to 2007 (39,749).
"The more calls-for-service you have, the slower response time you have," Baldwin said. "We had nearly a 10 percent increase in calls-for-services and our response time slowed somewhat."
While there is still plenty of time left in the calendar year, the early numbers say KPD is making the right moves.
"We are making progress across the board, but we're not done yet," Baldwin said. "The year is still too early to say how it will end up."
Contact Victor O'Brien at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7468.