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Crime trending downward in Queen City

SPD chief says businesses can help to continue the trend

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 For the first time, the Springfield Police Department can track year-over-year changes in crime by using an FBI reporting system, and from 2020 to 2021, overall crime declined by 6.9%.

SPD now has two years’ worth of data from the bureau’s National Incident-Based Reporting System, which analyzes more than 50 crime types in three categories: crimes against persons, property and society.

The report compares two years that are atypical in many ways, with stay-at-home orders changing the dynamic in 2020 and a slow return to the workforce continuing through much of 2021.

More people staying at home may have been a factor in an 11.3% reduction in crimes against property. There was a 3.6% rise in crimes against persons, while crimes against society declined by 2.2%.

“It’s a mixed bag,” said SPD Chief Paul Williams. “Crime numbers are always numbers. I don’t ever base anything on numbers.”

He called the two years of NIBRS reports a statistical starting point.

“Anything that’s down, I look at it as less victims,” he said.

Murder and negligent manslaughter declined to 22 from 27 incidents year over year, and rape declined to 142 from 155 offenses.

He noted the number of simple assaults increased by 8.6%, to 3,082 in 2021, with aggravated assault – assault using a weapon – increasing 1.1%, to 2,104 incidents.

“That’s the thing that’s increased dramatically and continues to increase,” he said. “It’s a huge concern.”

He pointed out the majority of simple assault cases are between people who know each other, and both domestic and workplace violence issues are factored.

“I encourage businesses to get to know their people,” he said. “It’s a cliche, but if you see something, say something. That’s a huge factor in domestic violence situations.”

Businesses can help by recognizing a problem early and helping a victim, who may be an employee, to find some help.

Williams is now targeting a specific crime for reduction each quarter, beginning the year with auto theft.

“Those historically spike in winter months as people leave their cars running to warm them up,” he said.

In the next quarter, beginning in April, the focus will switch to burglaries from vehicles.

“The weather gets better; people start getting out and school hasn’t wrapped up yet,” he said. “People start leaving things in cars and creating an environment for theft.”

The third quarter focus will be burglaries, both residential and business, correlating with the summer travel months.

During the fourth quarter, which is historically shopping season, the focus will be robberies, particularly at businesses.

“That’s always a crime of opportunity,” he said. “With more stuff going on, more activity with local shopping centers and businesses, more money being exchanged, there’s a potential for bigger loss.”

Protecting businesses
Williams said he met with Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Springfield Association officials to encourage businesses to help reduce crime.

He offered four steps businesses can take:

Get to know your PAR officer. There are eight police area representatives assigned to different beats in the city, and they are responsible for encouraging crime prevention measures through community interaction. “They’re available to answer questions, provide insights – even do security assessment,” Williams said.

Engage in crime prevention through environmental design. Williams suggests lighting, landscaping and building design can make properties less susceptible to crime, either as an individual business or in a larger group or area.

Join the camera registration program. The city has a voluntary registry of camera systems owned by businesses or residents, and when a crime occurs, officers can determine if there was camera coverage to aid in their investigations. Just having a camera and making the fact known can deter crime, Williams said.

Check out the crime mapping system. The SPD website has a link to a crime mapping program that allows users to examine a specific area over a period of time – for example, a business owner can look at crime within a six-block perimeter over the past two weeks. Williams said neighborhoods are already exercising this kind of vigilance. “We’re trying to encourage the business community to take a similar approach,” he said.

Staffing
Williams told Springfield City Council he now has 25 people in his current recruiting class. The department’s 75th police academy, which began in January, started with 27.

In the lateral academy, designed to train experienced officers, there are three recruits – one from California, one from another agency in Missouri and a retired SPD officer who has decided to rejoin the force. In November, council approved an incentive for the rehire of retired officers, allowing them to continue to receive a pension if rehired.

He said six cadets are already approved for the August recruit class, with another 24 set to take a test for admission.

But the SPD also has lost staff, with seven retirements and a resignation in February.

“We are sitting right now at 50 vacancies,” he told council. “We kind of bounce back and forth on that number.”

Three more retirements are anticipated this summer, but no other officers are anticipated to hit the retirement mark, 25 years of service, for the rest of the year.

Williams said there are 17 more vacancies among nonsworn staff, mainly records clerks.

“Because of that, we’re going to have to make some changes in records,” he said.

The records office at the main police station will now close at 5 p.m., having previously been open through 11 p.m.

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