Crime & Courts

Less crime in small Kansas towns, KBI data shows

Police Sgt. Don McElroy was running radar Thursday afternoon on 183rd Street West at the east edge of Goddard.

To his right, construction crews were wrapping up work on a 120,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter that is expected to open in a few months.

Behind him, a 2007 silver Toyota Corolla was coming up the road at 54 mph in what had been, until three months ago, a 55-mph zone. It’s now a 40-mph zone, and the 75-year-old driver – a Wichita man coming to Goddard to see his grandchildren – didn’t notice the new speed limit. McElroy would send him off with a warning.

“He has a clean record,” McElroy said after returning to his patrol car. “He was as nice as can be and very apologetic. I know the next time he comes through here, he’ll be doing 38.”

As Wichita police deal with armed robberies and gunfire in Old Town, most small-town police departments around Kansas are dealing with complaints about loose dogs and noisy neighbors, and keeping tabs on local traffic laws.

Like most cities its size, Goddard has a violent crime rate that barely registers on the Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s crime data web page. Despite Goddard’s growing population – 4,344 in the 2010 Census – the city still has a small-town crime rate. Kansas cities under 5,000 averaged about 15 serious crimes per 1,000 residents per year from 2007 through 2011, KBI records show.

For cities with more than 5,000 residents, the rate was more than triple that.

Goddard’s rate – about 20 crimes per year per 1,000 residents – is comparable to other cities and suburbs in the Wichita area.

Bill Reid, a research analyst who compiles crime data for the KBI, said there are caveats to reading the crime data. Many of the state’s smaller cities are inconsistent in their reporting, he said, and cities that report regularly often classify crimes differently.

“Comparing city to city can get a little difficult,” Reid said. “If a community focuses on DUI, they may end up having lot more DUI cases than other agencies.

“Usually what we look at are comparisons from year to year, whether the numbers are going up or going down.”

Goddard crime low

Goddard Police Chief Sam Houston said the city deals with 3,000 vehicles each day that pass through town on U.S. 54. That tends to bring some crime to the truck stop and convenience store on the highway.

But for the most part, Houston said, Goddard’s crime is low. The city hasn’t recorded a homicide since the 1980s.

“We have a rape every so often,” he said. “Aggravated assaults – we have a few of those. Motor vehicle thefts – we don’t get a lot of those.

“We had one robbery this year – that was the one at the fireworks stand. Before that we hadn’t had a robbery in four years.”

The fireworks stand robbery may have been the biggest crime to hit Goddard in years. It happened June 28 when one man held an attendant at gunpoint while another, whose face was painted like a clown, stole $900 worth of fireworks. The same robbers held up a fireworks stand in Derby the night before.

In the Goddard robbery, Houston said, the robbers bypassed cash they could easily have taken.

“I think they just wanted a good fireworks show,” he said “The leads have gone cold on that one.”

The only other crime that generated much media interest this year was a burglary at the Goddard United Method Church. Houston said a suspect in that case was arrested when a Kansas Highway Patrol trooper found some of the stolen property during a traffic stop in Harvey County.

Houston said there isn’t much gang activity in town, though there are some wannabe gang members in Goddard schools.

“As far as card-carrying members of the gangs you see in Wichita, there are none that we know of.” he said.

In recent years, the number of certified law enforcement officers in Goddard has increased from six to 12. That allows the city to provide round-the-clock protection without relying on the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office to cover the city during the early morning hours. Houston said the Goddard City Council decided to increase the size of the department.

“The citizens wanted to see a Goddard police officer when they called 911,” he said.

Houston said there are drawbacks to running a small-town police department.

“We don’t have the same crime that (Wichita Police Chief) Norman Williams does,” he said. “We also don’t have as many resources to fall back on.”

He said losing one or two officers to a military deployment means extra work for the officers that remain.

Houston said he’s heard of cities that juggle the numbers to keep their crime rates artificially low.

“You can make the numbers do whatever you want ’em to do,” he said. “Ours are what they are.”

New business, more crime

Houston said he expects the new Wal-Mart will bring some new crime to Goddard.

He said he’s been told that the Wal-Mart in Derby generates about 120 cases a year for police there, not to mention the 15 car crashes they have to investigate.

Wichita police records show that Wichita Wal-Mart stores also generate their share of police activity. The Wal-Mart store at 3030 N. Rock Road generates about 180 cases a year for Wichita police if you count the traffic accidents. The store at 6110 W. Kellogg generates about 311 cases a year, police data shows, while the store at 501 E. Pawnee generates about 544 cases. The most common crime at all the stores is shoplifting.

McElroy said he’s not sure what his call-load will be like after the Wal-Mart opens. He said many days this summer have been crime-free. By mid-afternoon Thursday, Goddard police had yet to receive a 911 call.

McElroy said the calls seem to run in spurts.

“We could go a couple of days and not get dispatched to anything,” he said “Then the next day there’s not enough of us to go around.”

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