- By Parker Perry Staff Writer
Champaign County had some high profile cases last year — including a school shooting and a teen murder suspect who’s claimed multiple personalities — but overall violent crime rates remained largely flat.
Urbana Police Chief Matt Lingrell said he’s concerned about the amount of crime in the city, even though the statistics don’t show an increase in violent crime last year.
“For Urbana specifically, the one thing that troubles me most is the level of violence right now,” Lingrell said. “We are seeing more acts of violence and more actual infliction of violence and injuries than we have in my 33-year career in Urbana.”
No homicides were recorded in the city of Urbana, according to statistics from the police division analyzed by the Springfield News-Sun. Champaign County Sheriff’s Office data also shows no major uptick in violent crime.
Lingrell said although there were no homicides in Urbana last year, the city recorded only two homicides between 1994 and 2010 and since then it’s seen five. That’s too much, he said.
“That is troubling for everyone,” Lingrell said.
The division made 215 more arrests last year than it did in 2016, according to the statistics. That can be contributed to the way the division handles drug crimes, Lingrell said.
“Most of the crime that we and any other agency are facing can be tied directly to narcotics and the drug trade,” he said. “One of the things we do is we have a very strict drug enforcement policy, even with the current status throughout the state trying to come up with help programs, our policy here is to seek out all drug crimes, low level and high level, and charge those people.”
Getting drug offenders in the criminal court system is the best way to keep track of who have problems and getting them off the street, Lingrell said.
“Our first look at things is not to get people help, it is getting them into the criminal justice system and if the court has programs that they will believe will help them, we are for it,” he said.
The Urbana Police Division made 529 drug-related arrests last year compared to 417 drug-related arrests in 2016, according to the crime statistics.
In Champaign County, violent crime went down from 146 reported cases in 2016 to 133 reported cases in 2017. However, there was a school shooting at West Liberty-Salem High School and 15-year-old Donovan Nicholas has been charged with murder in connection with a violent attack on his father’s fiancee.
Champaign County deputies are working hard to stop crime before it happens, Sheriff Matthew Melvin said.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be able to implement a couple of community involvement programs that recruit the help of citizens in crime fighting throughout Champaign County,” he said.
The sheriff’s office has started a farm-watch program by working with the Champaign County Farm Bureau, Melvin said, and creating the organization SCENE with county residents to expand a neighborhood watch program.
Though violent crime is down, the sheriff said drug crime is up.
The county saw 13 more drug possession arrests last year than in 2016, according to the sheriff’s office statistics.
“Champaign County continues to fight the opioid epidemic as does Ohio and the nation,” he said. “This epidemic has affected not only the opioid user but also the innocent victims of this county.”