Crime in Wichita is downBY STAN FINGER
The Wichita Eagle
Crime fell significantly in Wichita last year, and in pretty much every major category. Whether it was homicides, rapes, robberies, residential burglaries, larcenies or auto thefts, the numbers were down in 2010 compared to the year before.
"It was an encouraging year," Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams said in opening his annual review of crime statistics for the city.
Overall, crime fell 5 percent in Wichita last year, according to statistics compiled by the Police Department. The number of major crimes fell more than 7 percent.
Of the seven major crime categories, only one — burglaries — saw an increase in 2010 over the previous year.
That increase was the result of a nearly 25 percent increase in nonresidential burglaries, which involve structures such as detached garages and storage sheds.
Residential burglaries fell more than 2 percent.
"We couldn't have done it without the community," Williams said. "They have been the eyes and ears of law enforcement."
Law enforcement officials credited IMPACT meetings — Information Meetings Providing Answers to Citizens Today — with improving communication and trust between officers and the community.
Officers and a case detective meet with residents of a neighborhood recently affected by a serious crime to review what happened. In warm weather, the meetings are held in the street. When the weather isn't pleasant, officers go door to door.
There were 101 such meetings conducted in neighborhoods around the city last year, drawing nearly 1,600 people.
"It allows us to provide timely, accurate information to the citizens in those neighborhoods where that crime was experienced," Williams said.
The meetings have become a place where residents can bring up crimes and concerns that have otherwise gone unreported.
One example of that came in the 2500 block of South Oliver last summer when officers learned at an IMPACT meeting that three people were victimized by a window peeper.
A special assignment was organized, Williams said, and "within a short amount of time they made the arrest of the window peeper."
"Those IMPACT meetings have been very, very valuable to us" in building relationships with the community, he said.
That communication will be important as the department grapples with budget cuts, including the elimination of crime prevention and education programs.
With the elimination of school resource officers in Wichita's middle schools, Williams said the department is embracing new ways to stay connected to students and their schools — from summer programs to more interaction by beat officers.
Gang violence and gang crime continued to fall in Wichita last year; statistics show that:
* Gang-related homicides fell nearly in half, from 11 to six.
* Gang-related shootings dropped nearly 30 percent, from 57 to 41.
* Drive-by shootings fell nearly 40 percent, from 21 to 13.
* Arrests of gang members climbed nearly 10 percent, to 1,313.
There is no one reason gang-related crimes have fallen, Williams said. But a significant factor is the aggressive investigation of gang-related crimes.
Officers have been doing "exceptional work in neighborhoods, beating the bushes," he said. "Citizens are providing us great information.''
Within the first 48 to 72 hours, "we investigate gang crimes with the same vigor and aggressiveness that we do a homicide," he said.
Finding and arresting those responsible reduces the potential for retaliations that can quickly escalate tensions between gangs, he said.
Solving those crimes in a timely fashion also calms neighborhoods that deal with gang violence.
Even with an abundance of good news regarding crime, there were some troubling statistics emerging from 2010.
Traffic fatalities jumped nearly 40 percent in 2010, to 29. That increase occurred despite substantial declines in the number of injury accidents and collisions in which alcohol was involved.
No single factor could be blamed for the increase, Williams said, which means motorists simply need to obey traffic laws and be more attentive.
DUI arrests climbed 17 percent over 2009, to just under 2,100.
After noticing an increase in the number of accidents involving alcohol early in the year, "we encouraged our officers to be more vigilant in DUI enforcement," said Lt. Joe Schroeder, who heads the accident follow-up unit.
"We looked to see what the trends were and we adjusted our actions to the trends," he said.
A similar dichotomy appeared in traffic statistics involving motorcycles.
The number of collisions involving motorcycles fell 13 percent, to 149. But the number of motorcycle fatalities nearly doubled, from six to 11.
Excessive speed and failure to yield right of way are two of the most common factors contributing to the fatalities, Schroeder he said. Too often, other drivers don't see the motorcycle until it's too late.
Circumstances are combining to increase the likelihood of motorcycle crashes and fatalities as well.
There are more motorcycles on the streets as time goes on, Schroeder said. And where bikers used to ride only when conditions were warm and dry, he said, it's not uncommon to see motorcycles out even during the winter now.
Williams said an increase in the number of inexperienced motorcycle riders is a contributing factor as well. Too many riders out there don't have the training they need to ride safely, he said.
"You need that training to understand how to maneuver," he said.
Given the troubling number of traffic fatalities, "we're going to continue to be aggressive in our enforcement" of traffic laws, Williams said.
We don't have a quota," he said. "We have a goal and a commitment to reduce the number of traffic fatalities in this community."
Gangs will continue to be a priority as well, he said.
"Gangs are part of our community," Williams said. "Our job is to try to keep the violence down and address the issues that precipitate that gang violence."
Burglaries will continue to get special attention, Capt. Jeff Easter said.
Officers will be working with residents on how to keep belongings safe in garages and sheds.
They'll also track known burglars, since history shows they continue to commit the crimes even after arrest and time spent in prison.
Crime has fallen two consecutive years in Wichita, but Williams cautioned against complacency.
"The challenge for the entire community is to look at how we can continue that downward trend," he said.Reach Stan Finger at 316-268-6437 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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