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Police story: crime and the village

Earlier this month two vehicles were stolen from a local garage and driveway and 10 more were broken into. Last year nine local residences were burglarized in a crime spree that lasted several months. Local murders in 2002 and 2004 shook the community.

More commonly, however, the Yellow Springs Police Department deals with complaints of barking dogs, loud music and stolen bicycles.

Incidents of violent crime in Yellow Springs are rare, and property crime continues to be the primary threat in Yellow Springs, according to a recent annual report released by the police department. Additional figures suggest that Yellow Springs is a safe community compared with surrounding municipalities, while its crime rate is on par with similar small towns in the area.

Looking at the numbers, Police Chief Anthony Pettiford said this week that he believes that Yellow Springs is relatively safe, but that the local police need to remain visible here to make sure the village doesn’t attract criminals. The best way to do that, Pettiford said, is to add more officers to the department.

“We are very fortunate in our community that the things happening around us have not come in here,” Pettiford said, citing higher crime rates in Xenia, Fairborn and Dayton. “But we have to make sure that we man the perimeters of this place.”

At Council’s Feb. 24 meeting, Pettiford requested that the Village fund one additional patrol officer position and two part-time dispatchers in 2014, which he said will bring up his “skeleton crew” to a level of staffing he feels is adequate to protect the town. (See Council article).

The Yellow Springs Police Department is already staffed at a level above the national average and well more than many area small towns with similar crime rates, according to statistics from the FBI. However, policing the village’s small population of 3,526 in a small area of 1.9-square miles is far different than most other small communities, Pettiford said. That’s because Yellow Springs is a popular tourist destination with a U.S. highway thoroughfare and has many amenities of larger communities, such as seven places that serve alcohol downtown and three banks.

“When you say village, you think of Jamestown and Cedarville, but for me this is a high volume tourist attraction,” Pettiford said. “There’s no comparison.”

The police department’s 2013 annual report showed a snapshot of crime in Yellow Springs. What offenses are most common here, and what are the police doing about it? Is Yellow Springs truly as safe as its reputation suggests? How does local crime and police staffing differ from neighboring communities?

Crime by the numbers

Of the 879 incidents and offenses in the village in 2013, most were minor issues like disturbances and fights, noise complaints, neighbor disputes, found property and dead animals on the road, according to the annual report. Those incidents, categorized “Miscellaneous,” cover the majority of police activity and rose 50 percent over 2012.

What appears to be a major increase in such incidents is more a result of a change in record keeping, Pettiford said. Since he was hired in November 2012, Pettiford has been adamant that every activity of the department be logged, and according to categories determined by Greene County, much of what Yellow Springs does falls into “Miscellaneous.”

The report also shows that last year violent crimes remained low; assaults fell from 28 in 2011 to 13 in 2012 and then rose slightly to 17 in 2013. There were no homicides or robberies in 2013. However, those incidents categorized as suicide/mental/overdose rose from 5 in 2011 and 2012 to 16 in 2013.

In terms of property crime, there were 21 burglaries, up from six in 2011 and nine in 2012. At the same time, the incidents of larceny, theft and fraud fell from 194 incidences in 2011 to 107 in 2012 and 93 last year, and two incidents of breaking and entering was a drop from nine in 2011 and eight in 2012.

But such small numbers can fluctuate widely from year to year, especially during a rash of crime (such as the recent vehicle burglaries), Pettiford said, cautioning that villagers not draw too many conclusions from the three-year trends he provided. Rather, the report was intended to give the community a glimpse into the operations of the department to combat the thinking that officers “just ride around,” he said.

In response to questions about apparent trends in the data, Pettiford said that the increase in burglaries was due in part to the nine committed by Oliver Simons in 2013, and that suicide/mental/overdose could be related to increased reports of those overdosing on medication or those who are more stressed due to the continuing poor state of the economy. Pettiford was unsure about other trends, including an apparent drop in thefts.

Pettiford was hesitant to attribute the decline in local drug offenses, which fell from 52 in 2011 to 34 in 2012 and ultimately to 24 last year, to any change in policy at the department, saying that the department “takes a strong stance on narcotics issues,” while at the same time, “We don’t go knocking on doors.”

A rise in traffic citations (from 395 in 2012 to 589 last year) and traffic warnings (from 1,083 in 2012 to 1,419 last year), was also not because of any new policy, Pettiford said. Instead, individual officers can decide when to issue tickets. Pettiford said he doesn’t want his officers to “chase taillights” because they have other responsibilities each shift, but that traffic stops are important because they reduce local traffic accidents and provide leads for other crimes.

Pettiford added that the department’s goal is not to make money from traffic stops. According to Interim Village Manager Kent Bristol, revenue from traffic citations doesn’t even cover the cost of Mayor’s Court.

“We enforce the traffic laws and that’s a part of keeping this community safe,” Pettiford said. “But we’re not money driven, we’re not numbers driven.”

How safe is the village?

Compared to state and national averages and the crime rates in surrounding areas, Yellow Springs is a relatively safe community, while it is on par with similar small towns.

Violent crime is especially low here. Yellow Springs averaged four incidents of homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault from 2008 to 2012, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Statistics (2012 data is the most recent available for comparing with other communities). That’s equivalent to 1.2 incidents per 1,000 residents. In recent years violent crime rates in Xenia and Fairborn were both about 2.3 per 1,000 residents, which was still below the 2012 U.S. average of 3.9 per 1,000 and the Ohio average of 3.0. Crime rates were higher than the national average in Springfield (6.2 per 1,000 residents) and Dayton (9.8).

Property crime is the most significant threat in Yellow Springs, but still below state and national averages. There were 37 cases of property crime in Yellow Springs in 2012, a rate of 10.5 incidents per 1,000 residents, well below the 2012 U.S. average of 28.6 and the Ohio average of 31.1.

However, from 2008 to 2012 property crime averaged 22.5 per 1,000 residents. Still, that’s lower than Fairborn (32.8 in 2011), Xenia (44.9 in 2012), Dayton (59.0 in 2012) and Springfield (71.9 in 2012). Property crimes in Yellow Springs dropped by two-thirds since 2008, faster than the national drop of 10 percent over the same time period.

Even though Yellow Springs is relatively safe, the proximity of high crime in the surrounding area is a concern, according to Pettiford, who said that Yellow Springs isn’t “in a bubble.” While Pettiford, who has been in the chief job for a year, didn’t personally take credit for such low crime rates, he believes a strong police force plays a key role. In addition, the high level of community involvement in public safety, for example by calling in tips to the police, has made Yellow Springs a safer community, he said.

When compared with similar small towns in the area, crime rates in Yellow Springs were on par, or slightly higher. The community of Bellbrook outside of Xenia, which had a 2012 population of 7,001, double that of Yellow Springs, had the same number of violent crimes in 2012 — just three — for a violent crime rate of 0.4 per 1,000 residents compared with the Yellow Springs’ rate of 0.9. Yellow Springs’ five-year average for property crime here (22.5 per 1,000) was higher than in Bellbrook (14.1 in 2012) and Germantown (7.4 in 2012), and similar to Tipp City (23.8 in 2012).

Staffing Yellow Springs police

But many comparable towns have smaller police departments relative to the size of their community, and Yellow Springs’ staffing level is already above national per capita averages. Pettiford contended, however, that policing in Yellow Springs is much more labor-intensive than other small towns because of its draw as a tourist destination.

According to Pettiford, the Yellow Springs police department’s current staff includes 10 full-time officer and three dispatcher positions (the Village also has one part-time officer and three part-time dispatchers). Yellow Springs had 2.8 full-time officers per 1,000 residents in 2013, above the 2012 U.S. average of 2.4. Including dispatchers, the Village now employs 3.7 people per 1,000 residents, higher than the national average of 3.4 before part-time workers are even factored in. With the department’s requested addition of another full-time officer (with another having been recently added), Yellow Springs would have 3.1 officers per 1,000 residents, well above the national average. Currently, staffing is down, with Officer Jon Matheny having left in early February, and Pat Roegner on leave for an unspecified time.

Meanwhile, in Bellbrook, for example, there were 19 full-time police department employees, including 13 officers, for a lower rate of 1.9 officers per 1,000 residents, according to its 2012 department report. Other towns have even fewer officers relative to their population, according to FBI data. Nearby Cedarville, population 4,032, currently has four full-time officers (and 11 part-time officers). According to 2009 figures, Waynesville (pop. 3,112) had two full-time officers, Enon (pop. 2,532) had four full-time officers, Germantown (pop. 5,031) had 11 full-time officers and Tipp City (pop. 9,255) had 19 full-time officers — all fewer officers per capita than Yellow Springs.

But Pettiford emphasized that comparing Yellow Springs staffing to other communities is not relevant because Yellow Springs is a tourist town, regularly attracting thousands of visitors on weekends and upwards of 25,000 people at its semiannual street fairs. As a result of the increase in traffic and occasional criminal activities that tourists bring in, the load on local police is much greater.

“It’s not really what the tourists bring, it’s just the mass amount of people that come through,” Pettiford explained. “So it doesn’t necessarily increase the crime or robberies, it’s the minor stuff that we have to handle like the parking and the crashes and lost property.”

Re-routing traffic around blocked streets poses a particular strain on the department, which uses all its personnel and outside police support for Street Fair and also brings in officers on overtime during other events such as fireworks and races, Pettiford said.

In addition to helping an already-strained department, the additional officers would allow the local police department to have two officers on duty during most times, Pettiford said. If a local officer on duty alone needed backup, it could take 15 to 20 minutes for an officer from the Greene County Sheriff’s Department to arrive on the scene, according to Pettiford. In addition, the local response to a domestic violence call, for which two officers are always required, could be delayed.

With two officers on duty at any given time, local officers could also go out on bicycle patrols more often, which would increase the accessibility and visibility of officers and is more “community oriented,” Pettiford said.

Adding more officers would first and foremost protect local officers who have backup when they need it, but it would provide enough visibility in the community to continue to deter crime here, Pettiford said.

“The more visible we are, the more we are going to bring these [crime] numbers down,” Pettiford said. “You’re not going to stop all crime here, but I think we can keep a grasp on this as long as we can keep our staff where we need it to be.”

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