September 23, 2014

Elyria
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Analyzing crime in Lorain County

Chelsea Miller and Evan Goodenow, The Chronicle-Telegram

Elyria Police Chief Duane Whitely vowed to work on reducing burglaries after a surge was reported in the city in 2012.

The Lorain County Sheriff’s Office also responded to 147 more burglaries last year than in 2008, according to recently released crime statistics from each department.

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In Lorain, aggravated assaults increased 6.3 percent, while the number of robberies reported dropped 20 percent. Reported burglaries, a crime that affects more residents than violent crimes, dropped nearly 6.3 percent. Meanwhile, thefts — shoplifting is one of the biggest types — increased 3.4 percent.

Between 2008 and last year, the number of reported crimes in Lorain was mostly level. For instance, there were 169 aggravated or felonious assaults recorded in 2008 compared with 168 reported last year. In 2008, 1,296 burglaries were recorded, compared with 1,266 reported last year.

‘Misleading numbers’

Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera said crime statistics can be deceptive and experts note that myriad factors can increase numbers. An opening of a big box store can spike larcenies, while increased foreclosures often increase burglaries.

Circumstances can also depress numbers.

Residents frustrated with police or intimidated by criminals may not always report crimes if they believe there is little chance of them being solved or that reporting them may have dangerous repercussions, he said.

Nonetheless, Rivera believes the perception of crime in Lorain is greater than the reality.

“Most of the city of Lorain is extremely safe. It’s just various pockets that we’ve had to deal with,” he said. “Even those neighborhoods are safer today than they were last year or the year before.”

While crime has been level, the number of calls to Lorain police increased about 8 percent from 54,402 in 2011 to 58,835 last year.

Rivera said his department, which has about 100 officers, increasingly uses computerized crime analysis to maximize resources. It helps officers identify “hot spots” and target drug dealers and gang members.

Officers arrested 20 suspected gang members in 2010 and 22 in May. Rivera said there is a greater focus on targeting neighborhoods with substantial drug dealing rather than individual dealers.

“By doing that and also focusing on the times that crimes are being committed, where they’re being committed and who’s committing them, it’s had a positive impact,” he said.

Bar none

Whitely has also seen the benefits of using computerized crime analysis.

Using software, police determined that some of Elyria’s downtown bars were the source of a large amount of crime in the city. After bars deemed a nuisance by police were shut down, the number of assaults dropped last year.

As a result, Whitely said calls for service downtown have decreased.

“We’re going to have businesses shut down that are problems,” he said. “Our hope is that they stay shut down.”

Elyria officers are also focusing on decreasing burglaries in the city.

Elyria recorded 814 burglaries and breaking-and-entering reports last year, the highest number in years. The Lorain County Sheriff’s Office also reported 70 more burglaries this year.

Whitely attributed the increase in crime to drugs, which he said are involved in 80 percent of the crimes reported in Elyria. Drug users chasing another high will do just about anything to feed their addiction, he said, and drugs like crack cocaine and heroin are hard to quit, making both supply and demand for drugs high.

“That’s why the Narcotics Unit is so important,” Whitely said.

Elyria police disbanded the unit in 2011 because of budget concerns, but since the unit disbanded, Mayor Holly Brinda said burglaries and drug use spiked.

Brinda said Monday the unit will be resurrected next month. The move will mean three officers will work nearly exclusively on drug-related crimes.

Whitely said officers will target both the drug dealers and drug users. He said he hopes the Narcotics Unit will help deter the number of burglaries, although he believes the perception of crime in Elyria is overblown.

“A few stories make people uncomfortable with what’s going on, but really, it’s not that bad,” he said.

Elyria police received 41,457 calls for service last year, down slightly from 42,140 in 2011. Whitely said while the number may look high, most of the calls are not substantiated, but they must be recorded when an officer is called out.

Calls for service included many prisoner transports, disturbances or suspicious conditions.

Whitely said suspicious conditions are generally unsubstantiated reports, and disturbances may include fights or domestic reports where a victim could not be substantiated.

Whitely said the variety of calls keeps officers busy.

“Our guys respond very well, especially to crimes in progress,” he said.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com or Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.