Murders drop in Springfield, but chief says gun violence still up

The homicide rate in Springfield dropped almost 60 percent from 2015 to last, but Police Chief Steve Moody said that number doesn’t tell the full story of what’s happening on the streets.

A dozen people were murdered in Springfield in 2015, with four of the killings occurring within nine days. In 2016, five people were murdered, a drop of about 58 percent, Moody said, and so far 2017 has seen zero homicides.

But aggravated assaults are up by 25 percent, he said, a number that is directly related to gun violence.

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“There are still people reaching for a handgun to solve a problem,” he said.

More than 180 aggravated assaults were recorded in 2016, according to data from the Springfield Police Division. That’s an increase from 150 in 2015.

Aggravated assault “usually is accompanied by the use of a weapon or by means likely to produce death or great bodily harm,” according to the division.

“What we saw in 2015 was the heroin trafficking provided the funding stream for these individuals to buy the guns,” Moody said.

Multiple people have been shot, he said, but survived. Through the first two months of the year, 21 aggravated assaults have been recorded.

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At the same time, many changes were made at the beginning of the year in the police division, Moody said, after voters rejected a tax increase and budget cuts from the city went into effect. The police substation on West Johnny Lytle Avenue closed and three civilian employees have recently been laid off.

“We’re beyond cut to the bone, we’re in the marrow now,” he said.

The changes have increased the time it takes for officers to respond to calls, he said, and put more on each officer’s plate. In 2016 officers responded to 55 percent of calls in three minutes or less. In the first two months of the year that number has increased to four minutes.

“Wait time is up on certain calls,” Moody said.

Officers are constantly responding to overdose calls, he said. In the first two months of the year they’ve responded to about 230 overdose calls. In all of 2015, police responded to 300 overdose calls and about 350 in 2016.

Officers will likely be taken off the streets to work in the civilian positions where employees have been laid off.

The police division’s community response team has taken a hit, he said, and now has just one officer to oversee it. That has meant the division can’t offer active shooter training, he said, or other events it has in the past.

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