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The Springfield Police Department tracked 35% fewer car thefts during the first quarter this year.
SBJ file
The Springfield Police Department tracked 35% fewer car thefts during the first quarter this year.

Focus on crime pays off with fewer car thefts in city

Posted online

City crime rates dropped 22% overall in the first three months of 2022 versus 2021, but violent crime is up 7%.

Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams presented these figures in a quarterly crime report to City Council on May 16. The statistics are part of the National Incident-Based Reporting System maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Williams said criminal activity is down, in part, because 35% fewer cars were stolen in the first three months of the year – a trend he attributed to an intensive public information campaign and focused deployment of officers to those areas where cars have been stolen or recovered.

“They really paid attention to the message,” Williams said of the campaign.

He cited a 15% reduction in cars being stolen with keys inside of them and an 18% reduction in cars being stolen while being warmed on cold days.

“Those two things I’ve harped on a lot, saying we just don’t do those two things,” he said. “If people would just keep their cars locked, keep their keys in their pocket, then we would reduce auto theft. I think that proved true in the first three months.”

SPD officers made car thefts a community education focus in the quarter, placing yellow warning flyers on cars left running.

Now that cold weather is over, thieves have less temptation from cars being warmed up, running and waiting for them, but Williams said he hopes the education sticks.

“We’re hoping that continues over the next nine months when our focus moves on to other crimes,” he said.

Williams has said the department’s second-quarter educational focus is burglary.

Williams said the only negative he had to report is the 7% spike in violent crime in the first quarter.

“That’s driven totally by the number of aggravated assaults,” he said, noting those incidents were up 20% from the previous year.

He said almost all of the increase is due to gun violence, with an increasing number of people being shot.

“That’s something we’re continuing to struggle with as a department and a community,” he said. “To that end, my special investigations unit this year to date has seized 92 illegal firearms. They did 150 all of last year, so we are doing our part to keep those illegal guns off the street.”

Williams told council he was a month behind in providing the first-quarter NIBRS numbers to council.

“We have severe staffing shortages in records,” he said.

As of May 16, Williams reported 18 vacant records positions and 52 vacant police officer positions. He said 24 cadets were scheduled to graduate from the police academy in July, and he already has 192 applications for the next academy, which starts in September. Additionally, three officers just graduated from the lateral academy, which is for officers transferring from other agencies. Another two retired officers are in the final steps of the process to be hired back into the department.

Council members asked Williams if the shortage of records officers was causing a delay for prosecuting attorneys, and he said that section of the department is fully staffed. It is the other section of the records department that is low on staffers, and they have the additional responsibility of maintaining data from body-worn cameras. With over 100,000 specific instances so far to process, Williams said, the work is very time consuming.

The long-term plan, Williams said, is for the prosecutor’s office to have a direct link to the department’s cloud storage for its body-camera footage and not have to go through records people.

“I can’t say enough about the men and women that are out there working every day,” he said. “They’re overworked, but they see a light at the end of the tunnel that help is on the way.”

Of interest to business, crimes against property declined by 30% year over year in the first quarter.

Shoplifting saw a 21% decline, while burglary/breaking and entering fell 35% and theft from building was down 16%.

Counterfeiting/forgery declined by 8%, and destruction/damage/vandalism of property fell 13%, according to SPD data.

The category of false pretenses/swindle/confidence game declined by 24%, and credit card/automated teller machine fraud was down by 29%. Wire fraud saw a 54% decline, with identity theft falling by 71%. Robbery fell by 15%.

Stolen property offenses rose, with 45 instances in 2022, compared with 12 in 2021, for a 275% increase, according to the SPD.

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