The statistics for crimes in Wichita last year showed so many positive changes, Police Chief Norman Williams conceded on Wednesday that he was “very excited” by what he saw.
Serious crimes – including homicides, rapes, burglaries, robberies, auto thefts and aggravated assaults – fell 3.4 percent from 2012’s totals. The number of all crimes combined fell 3.5 percent.
“Crime was down in Wichita” in 2013, Williams said. “That’s the bottom line.”
There were 17 homicides last year, down nearly 40 percent from the year before. Robberies declined by 5 percent to 484. Burglaries dropped 8 percent, to 3,743.
Never miss a local story.
While aggravated assaults jumped more than 3 percent over last year, to more than 1,400, Williams said that increase was largely due to rival gangs feuding between March and June over a homicide in May 2012. Police officials reallocated resources and quelled the feud.
Despite several pieces of good news in last year’s numbers, Williams said there were troubling areas that police will make a priority in 2014.
One was the number of people killed in accidents last year: 30. That was up 25 percent over 2012, and the highest number in at least five years.
“That is unacceptable,” Williams said.
Wichita drivers can expect increased traffic enforcement efforts this year in an effort to reduce the number of fatalities, he said.
“No, we’re not going to do ‘speed traps,’ ” Williams said. “We’re telling you straight up front: ‘We’re going to change your behavior.’ ”
That doesn’t mean officers will be given quotas for writing tickets, he said.
Residents can expect police officials to use social media more to alert them to traffic enforcement efforts so they can be conscientious while driving. Motorists “have to have that level of personal accountability and personal responsibility” while driving, Williams said.
“That is a deadly weapon,” he said of a car, “so we need to do as much as we can” to reduce fatalities.
Gang violence was up last year over the year before.
Drive-by shootings jumped from 11 to 16 and gang-related aggravated assaults with firearms increased from 44 in 2012 to 52 last year. Ten of the 17 homicides in 2013 involved a gang member – either as a victim or a suspect.
Suppressing gang activity remains a priority in 2014, Williams said.
“It won’t be a shotgun approach,” he said.
Instead, law enforcement will target specific gangs and has developed something of a Top 10 list of most-wanted gang members.
“Yes, we go after them,” Williams said. “We can show they’re creating havoc in this community.”
Williams said he was also unhappy with a sharp drop in the number of DUI arrests last year. There were 1,356 arrests, down 40 percent from two years ago and about 25 percent from last year.
“That is a concern,” he said of the decline.
At least part of the drop can be blamed on fewer officers on the streets, Williams said. More than 40 positions were vacant because of military deployment, medical leave or other reasons. Another 25 officers were still in the training academy, he said, but they are completing their field training and will be going out on beats in a matter of days.
Four of last year’s homicides remain unsolved, and Williams said finding those responsible for the killings remains a high priority:
• James Gary Jr., 27, was shot to death during a fight outside a warehouse early on the morning of July 14.
• Lemmie Alford, 25, was shot in the street next to the intersection of 15th and Green on July 24.
• Kolby Hopkins, 25, was fatally wounded in the 100 block of North Rock Island when someone opened fire in an Old Town parking lot early on the morning of Sept. 22.
• Damon Williams, 47, was shot in a parking lot in the 4400 block of East Harry, later crashed his car and died on Oct. 29.
Answers in each of those cases remain elusive, police officials have said.
“We owe it to the victims” to solve the cases, Williams said Wednesday. “We owe it to the families.”