• September 14, 2014

Killeen police must have resources to keep crime rate low

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Posted: Sunday, July 22, 2012 12:00 pm

Killeen's crime rate is on the way down — and that's good news.

Addressing the Killeen City Council last week, Police Chief Dennis Baldwin noted crime was down in almost all categories for the first two quarters of the year, except for burglaries and larcenies.

Overall, the chief said, violent crime was down almost 4.4 percent and nonviolent crime fell more than 10 percent during the first six months of 2012, compared to the same period last year.

The chief offered a PowerPoint presentation that featured percentages, but the numbers behind the percentages tell the real story.

For example, one slide noted that murders had declined by more than 62.5 percent. In actuality, murders fell by five — from eight at this time last year to three through June 30 of this year.

By contrast, an increase in just eight cases caused the robbery figure to rise more than 8 percent, so it's obvious that the overall number is still relatively small — around 100 cases.

One impressive statistic was the 36.2 percent drop in burglaries reported. But the raw numbers are more compelling, as last year's to-date total of more than 1,100 reported burglaries has been trimmed by almost 400 so far this year.

The figure is still above the national average, but it is a welcome change from the days when Killeen led the state in the number of burglaries per capita, just five years ago.

Killeen's crime also declined according to another measure — the U.S. Census-based Uniform Crime Rate. The UCR showed a 19.3 percent drop in violent crime, and nonviolent crime fell almost 12.2 percent. In addition, the city's crime index — a per capita measure — dropped more than 13 percent.

These figures reflected an updated Census estimate placing the city's population at just over 130,000, compared to the 2010 Census total of 127,921. The slightly higher population figure resulted in a lowering of the per capita rate, since the number of crimes is averaged over the total number of residents.

While the drop in Killeen's crime activity is no doubt welcome news for the city's residents, the chief warned the trend could be short-lived if the police department doesn't receive the necessary resources.

In fact, Baldwin told the council the statistics he presented correlated directly to the police department's staffing level.

Pointing to the crime rate, the chief noted it jumped after the council defunded several KPD positions in 2008. But when the council returned funding to those positions in 2010, the crime rate dropped significantly.

With that in mind, the council would be well served to consider funding 12 new police officer positions that are currently in limbo after a federal grant fell through earlier this month.

The grant, which would have awarded the police department $1.5 million in federal funding, would have been designated for the salaries of 12 police officers over three years. The money would have been matched by about $724,000 from KPD.

Though public safety makes up well over 50 percent of the city's proposed $243.2 million budget, it is imperative the council find the money to fund the 12 police officer positions the grant would have covered.

Over the past year, the city doubled the size of KPD's burglary unit, which is now staffed 24 hours a day. The 36 percent drop in reported burglaries for the first six months of 2012 would seem to indicate the strategy is paying dividends.

But for the downward trend to continue, the police department must continue to grow with the community, which has seen its population increase by 47 percent in the last 10 years.

This mandate is borne out by statistics showing that KPD received 85,379 calls for service in the first six months of this year — an average of almost 470 calls per day. And that figure reflects nearly a 7 percent increase over the same period in 2011.

Clearly, the city has made impressive strides in reducing a troublesome crime rate. But as city officials doubtless know, reducing the rate even further and keeping it low will be a greater challenge.

But for the sake of Killeen's residents — both current and future — it's a challenge that must be met.

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