Violent crime rates decline in Springfield in 2017

Violent crime rates dropped in Springfield by more than 10 percent last year compared to 2016, a Springfield News-Sun review of police data shows.

The violent crime rate is the sum of all reported murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults, the Springfield Police Uniform Crime Report says. The data shows violent crime has dropped more than 14 percent since spiking in 2013 and 2014.

“I am hoping that trend continues,” Springfield Police Chief Lee Graf said. “I am really trying to put out there for officers to be really vigilant, thorough and be as proactive as possible and also really try to drive community policing.”

PREVIOUSLY: Violent crime in Springfield at 14-year high

However, at least four more murders were recorded in Springfield in 2017 than in 2016 and burglaries went up 8 percent, according to the data.

Outside the city of Springfield, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office recorded data that shows violent crime was slightly up from the previous year, including a big jump in robberies. Deputies also focused on making more drug-related arrests last year, Sheriff Deborah Burchett said.

“We have so much drugs and we have been working on that,” she said.

The effects of crime aren’t isolated to one part of Springfield, said Mary Dill, president of Parents of Victims of Crime said. He son was murdered in 2011.

“This is affecting everyone in the city,” she said. “We need to come together and put a stop to it.”

2017 Springfield crime stats

Springfield saw 42 fewer violent crimes reported last year than in 2016, according to the data, and 61 fewer violent crimes were reported in Springfield last year than in 2013.

MORE: Springfield man killed in shooting protecting friend, dad says

“I am pretty pleased with those stats but they can be better,” said NAACP Springfield Unit President Denise Williams. “We need to work better as a team.”

The Springfield crime stats aren’t all down. Nine murders occurred in 2017 compared to five in 2016, according to the crime data. However, that’s still better than in 2015 when 12 murders were recorded in the city — a five-year high.

Burglaries also climbed from 963 in 2016 to 1,040 last year, according to the Springfield police.

The city of Springfield followed a nationwide trend when it saw a crime spike in 2013 and 2014, Graf said.

“We had a rash of street violence with the homicides in 2015 and we are now experiencing the decrease,” he said.

He is relieved to see the numbers starting to fall, he said.

However, even with the statistical decrease, Graf said any violent crime can have a big impact in Springfield.

READ: One killed, two seriously injured in Springfield shootings

“The crime per capita is relatively low but when you say that, we are talking about real victims,” Graf said. “Crimes of violence reverberate through the community. We are all too often affected by something that happens to a loved one, something that happens to a family member or a community member or a church member.”

Clark County crime stats

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office crime data shows violent crime was up from 139 reported cases in 2016 to 166 reported cases last year.

Seventeen robberies were reported in 2016 while last year 50 robberies occurred. Felony assaults also rose in 2017, having recorded 16 more than the previous year.

The reason behind those increases is likely drugs, Burchett said.

“I feel it is due to the opioid epidemic,” she said. “They are seeking money to pay for their drug habit.”

No murders were reported last year in the sheriff’s jurisdiction, according to the crime statistics. Two occurred in 2016. Rapes also were down, according to the statistics, from 37 in 2016 to 17 last year.

MORE: Sex offender charged with raping 2 kids, indicted in Clark County

Burglary reports were also down, according to the statistics. In 2016, deputies reported 232 burglaries and in 2017, deputies reported 105.

“We are working hard to stop crime whenever we can,” Burchett said. “It is an ongoing challenge law enforcement deals with.”

Overall, the county crime rates are about where they were a year ago, Burchett said, except for drug arrests. In 2016, the county made 429 drug arrests and last year it made 778.

Burchett said her office is working hard to make more drug-related arrests. A drug task force created in March has contributed to that, she said.

“It hurts the economy, our community and our children. So many children are without parents now because of drugs. We have to look toward the future and the future of these children.”

Prosecuting violent offenders

One reason behind the drop in violent crime in the city might have to do with what is going on in the courtroom, Graf said.

“I know we had a series of prosecutions over the last few years of violent criminals,” Graf said.

That includes Dennis Kennedy. The 23-year-old was sentenced to 23 years in prison in October after a rash of gun violence. Prosecutors called him “one of the biggest gun players in Springfield.”

PREVIOUSLY: Springfield man on trial for shooting death near downtown

When violent criminals are sent to prison, Graf said violent crime tends to go down.

“A lot of crime is recidivism,” he said.

However, some crimes like murder can be spontaneous, Graf said, and those are nearly impossible to predict or stop. Springfield police do their best to investigate and solve murders of passion, he said, but can’t do much to prevent them other than provide as many resources as possible and hope people take advantage of them.

RELATED: Dennis Kennedy, ‘big player’ in Springfield violence, sentenced

Crimes that can be prevented are of the retaliatory nature, Graf said.

“You take some of those people off the street, then you reduce that,” he said. “It breaks that cycle. That’s part of it.”

Stopping the retaliatory crimes early is a top priority for the police division, Graf said, and has been for a while. One way to do so is for officers to build trust in the community, Graf said, and that includes encouraging community policing and continuing to work in schools.

“We have officers in the schools and working with kids,” Graf said. “We have DARE officers that go way beyond drugs, it deals with our behavior and respect for each other, staying away from violence and bullying.”

‘Need to keep it in the public’s eye’

More needs to be done to stop violence in Springfield, said Mary Dill, president of Parents of Victims of Crime.

“It’s time that people quit sitting back and saying we need to get together and do something,” Dill said. “We talk about it for a few weeks and I just feel that we don’t do the things we should do to fight crime. We need to keep it in the public’s eye.”

Parents of Victims of Crime is a group created by Dill for parents whose children were killed in Springfield. Dill’s son, Dovon Williams, was shot and killed at the intersection of West Perrin Avenue and Center Street in 2011. Her son’s killer was convicted.

She’s always been an activist, Dill said, but when her son was murdered she knew she had to step up and try to fight violence in Springfield.

MORE: Gun thefts, illegal weapons linked to Springfield violence

Her organization has done peace walks and marches in the past but not enough people have come out to support them, she said. She wants religious leaders and community leaders to stand with her to stop the shootings and violence in Springfield.

“As a parent, you hear about a shooting and it goes through you,” she said. “You wonder who’s next? How many murders does it take for these young people to see that’s not the way? But as long as there is fast, easy money to be made with drugs, it’s not going to stop.”

The NAACP is working with law enforcement and Springfield leaders to provide city youth more things to do to keep them off the streets and away from trouble, Williams said.

It is important for the youth to know that community leaders are listening, she said, and want to help keep the peace in the city.

“Our youth in the community are bored and tired and we are trying to do something to alleviate that,” Williams said.

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