What is Killeen doing about the city’s troubling crime rate?

That’s a legitimate question that many residents are asking in the wake of an FBI crime statistics report that shows increases in several categories for 2016 compared to the preceding year.

The numbers don’t lie.

Robberies rose from 148 to 234. Aggravated assaults were up from 513 to 617. Burglaries jumped from 1,038 to 1,124. Motor vehicle thefts nearly doubled, from 174 in 2015 to 351 in 2016.

All sobering statistics, to be sure.

Even more distressing is the fact the city recently recorded its 16th homicide of the year — equalling last year’s 12-month total, with three months to go in the current year.

Add in last week’s flurry of gunfire incidents in which homes and vehicles were targeted by gunmen in passing vehicles, and residents have every right to demand and expect answers.

To date, those answers have been few and far between.

At a community forum in mid-August, then-Police Chief Margaret Young acknowledged that violent crime was up 19 percent from the same time last year. Property crime had also increased, up 10.5 percent from the same date in 2016.

Yet, at the same forum, Young told the crowd the police department would be eliminating 32 vacant positions — including nine patrol officers and one police captain — in an attempt to save money.

That announcement was met with anger by some residents — and that’s certainly understandable.

At a time when the city is facing increasing challenges in curbing both violent and nonviolent crime, it’s hard to see how trimming positions — even vacant ones — sends the right message to criminals or the public at large.

City Manager Ron Olson is quick to point out that these positions aren’t actually being eliminated, but rather are being unfunded. That would seem to be splitting hairs, since either way, those positions will be empty, at least for the coming fiscal year.

It’s also troubling to hear of cutbacks, considering the department already has 17 actual vacancies — though some of those positions will be filled when prospective new hires complete their police academy training.

Still, the department should be actively recruiting quality people to maintain a full complement of officers.

In late August, the Harker Heights Police Department swore in Corey Bates as the department’s 47th officer. He was chosen from among 160 applicants for the position. He came out of the police academy as the No. 1 shooter and won the Top Gun Award. In addition, he was selected as the class’ honor graduate.

That’s the kind of quality recruit every department should strive to attract, and it’s worth asking whether Bates had also applied for a spot on the Killeen police force.

Over the past few years, Killeen has lost several senior officers and investigators to retirement, as well as the city’s longtime police chief, who moved over to City Hall to become the city’s interim city manager last fall and has continued on as an assistant city manager since Olson’s hiring in February.

With new Chief Charles Kimble in place, the city should be on the lookout for new officers to help fill the ranks — not trimming positions and slashing overtime.

At one time, the police department acknowledged a goal of having two police officers for every 1,000 residents. As Killeen’s population stands at about 140,000 people, that would mean KPD would have an optimum force of 280 officers.

But as things stand, the department is far short of that number, with 242 employed.

On Sept. 28, a 39-year-old man was found dead on Reese Creek Road in southwest Killeen. The body, which had a gunshot wound, was discovered by a mail carrier in the middle of the day.

The grisly discovery marked the city’s 16th homicide this year. Yet, to date, arrests have been made in only five of those cases. Yet, the police department is undergoing a restructuring that will shift personnel away from criminal investigations.

Kimble has said KPD will increase the number of patrol officers and change the way police patrols operate, making the most out of the department’s limited resources. This is especially important, since the recently approved city budget also puts caps on police overtime.

The department is also moving toward a more data-driven patrol strategy, in which crime patterns are evaluated and trouble spots are targeted with increased police resources. Though targeting neighborhoods has been criticized in some cities as an example of profiling, proponents say the policy can be highly effective.

Kimble also plans to put more emphasis on community policing, saying that it starts with visibility. If officers engage in problem-solving, he told the Herald, they know what’s normal in the neighborhoods and shopping centers they frequent.

Unfortunately, it may be getting harder to tell what’s “normal” in any given neighborhood.

The city’s homicides haven’t been confined to a single area of town. Rather, they have occurred in several sectors, as have the seemingly random drive-by gunfire incidents.

Obviously, the department has its work cut out if it is to be successful in bringing crime under control.

At the August police forum, Kimble sounded committed to the task, saying, “We’re going to do it (police work), and we’re going to do it with the resources we have. I’m not going to let a budget or a lack of a budget get in the way of this community’s safety.”

No doubt, Kimble and his department will need the community’s help in curbing crime.

No matter how many patrol officers KPD hires, police can’t be everywhere, at all times. That’s why programs such as Citizens on Patrol and Neighborhood Crime Watch are essential to monitoring suspicious activity in neighborhoods across the city.

Ultimately, the FBI’s crime stats are more than just numbers. Each one cited represents residents who have been impacted by crime — and had their lives diminished by it. And by extension, the city itself is diminished.

It’s time for action. It’s time to get involved.

It’s time for some answers.

dmiller@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7543

(5) comments

SnowWhiteNthe7Thieves

If a city wants to fight real crime, the city has to hire real police.

KilleenLocal

Before we can make changes in this town we have to acknowledge that we have some serious problems. Drugs, gangs and all of the other things that pollute communities across the country. What exactly can law enforcement do about it?

First and foremost, we have to crack down on punishing offenders. We can rant about the police not doing their jobs; but when they do and they think they've taken a hardened criminal off the streets only to find him back there on their next shift because a judge gave him/her another chance, is a direct slap in the face. When the judges (the very same one's we elect) start doling out maximum punishments here in Killeen and Bell County, criminals will learn that crime does not pay in our part of the world.

We as a city need to reevaluate our priorities. I really like being able to go to sleep each night and feeling safe in my home, and I owe this to the brave men and women who are out there patrolling in order that I can. If I pay a few more dollars in tax money to give them a raise, then by all means I'll pay those few more dollars. Peace of mind has no price tag! I personally know many of the great men and women who work with KPD. Their wages are some of the poorest in the state and are the poorest in Central Texas. Many of the officers get in their 2-3 years experience here and then transfer to other departments in the area that pay significantly more. Drive a little, gain a lot. We can't expect to keep them if we aren't willing to be competitive in pay. And one of the reasons why we can't attract cadets/officers to fill the slots the budget is cutting is because of the pay. No person wants to work more for less!

And this is the main reason why we will continue to see an increase in violent crimes in our area! Parenting... it starts in the home, very simple. In today's culture (and I've seen an increase in it here in my time here in Killeen) we have an increase in "thug" mentality! Rap songs, rap videos, news, social media and video games depict taking a life as no more significant as blinking an eye. Life has no value to these youngsters. I see young people with no jobs living in homes that exceed $200K, driving luxury automobiles etc. How exactly do they manage that, when working people can't? Because they are living out the "dream" of being comparable to the rap stars they look up to. And if someone crosses them, they very simply "put a cap in them" because that's what they do in the videos. Now you can't tell me that their family doesn't know that these people aren't living right. But they very simply don't care. We won't be able to change this here in our community because it is global. As long as media glamorizes violence, we will be at violence's mercy. We can only hope that the thin blue line that keeps them away from us stays strong.

And last but not least... we have to defeat the stigma that Police Officers carry with them today. The media is quick to crucify an officer who has done wrong or is thought to have done wrong and whips people into a frenzy of thinking that every Officer is bad. The risks to officers out on the street are now tripled due to this "bashing" by the media. An isolated event in a state thousands of miles away will have an impact here. We need to push for better journalism. Factual journalism. We need to focus on "positive reporting". How about you KDH, do you have any reporters go out and interview a family after a crime has been solved and tell their story? Do you report on all the good things that KPD does in our community? Absolutely NOT, good news does not sell! And as long as the media is portraying Officers (media nationwide) as the enemy and making them targets for "the aforementioned thugs" we won't be able to attract young people to law enforcement.

So in conclusion, we can indeed do something about our rising crime stats, but we as a community will have to reevaluate what is important to us. A new football stadium versus raising Police wages and spending money to attract more law enforcement officers to our area? What is a priority here? Electing better judges that will penalize criminals the first time around, NO SECOND CHANCES for anyone with a drug or violent crime conviction. And lastly, we need to focus on our schools, this is where our young people come into contact with "thugs". Keep our schools drug free and thug free. We need to do a lot of community intervention. We need to bring back recruiting days (military, law enforcement, colleges and university's) in our high schools that target at risk teens. And lastly we need to hold parent's accountable for their children's actions. If a minor commits a crime while living in their parent's home, punish both the parent and the child. We can pass ordinances in our city that can force parents to take control of their children.

That's my rant for the day.... if we want our city to change we as citizens need to change! VERY SIMPLE.

eyewatchingu

First, we need dist PD stations. This would put more officers where they are needed. It will also cut down response time. Many larger cities do this as it allows them to put more and less where is needed and at the end of third shift they transport inmates to the main jail.
Second, we need a real Chief of Police, take a look at Colonel Chief Eliot K. Isaac Cincinnati Ohio. He cut down gang activity in cincy by at lest 40% with in the first year he was on.
Thirdly, we need to get rid of those that choose to spread lies about human trafficking and gang activity out of sight and away from programs. This includes those that run around telling people they are a human trafficking officer for the KPD when they clear are not, we need to be more truthful about gangs in the area.
We need the naacp and any other one color group needs not be allowed any where near our KPD, this only distorts the problem instead of bring the truth to light.
It is not any ones fault that one commites a crime, the crime is committed because the person that is doing it has no self control or respect for others.
We need to get rid of that nut case of a judge as well, this will help move our court system forward and will allow all to understand that punishment will be handed down.
We need to teach all children education is the way, sit down in your seat, shut up and do your school work.
I as a child was taught to stop and put my hands up when I was told to do so by a cop, I was told to pull over as soon as I could safely pull over when the bubble gum lights came on, put my hands on the steering wheel and wait for the officer.
All parents should teach this along with, don't steal, don't touch, respect others and don't pass the buck.
Its time we make Killeen great again and that will take a lot, first we need to drain our own swamp. That means getting a real Chief of Police!!!

blackessence

I would like to know how many felonies happen were someone other than the perpetrator DID NOT KNOW ABOUT THE CRIME BEFORE IT HAPPENED? If someone wanted to take the time to do the research, just about in every serious crime, mass shooter, kidnapping, murder, robbery, you name it someone who DID NOT participate in the crime knew the crime was going to happen. Criminals cant keep secrets, its impossible. They tell someone, write about it, post it on social media, somehow they put the word out before they act. Which means that someone, if they had taken the time and connected the dots could have prevented a crime. This is an area that law enforcement should exploit and look into. How can we create an environment in which people who can put together the probable intentions of a person to shoot up Las Vegas, or a person to explode a pressure cooker bomb at a marathon event. The other phenomenon is how can a parent not know their teenager is doing in their house? How do children possess guns, bomb making materials in their parent's homes, without parents knowing. To me this is parenting neglect!!

Richard North

I have a Idea, lets build the Police Station away from the main city hub out in the middle of nowhere. Oh they already did that.

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