The number of reported crimes has dropped significantly in each of the past two years in Oak Ridge, and that’s good news for the community, economic development, and police officer morale, officials said Wednesday.
Reported crimes were down 9 percent in Oak Ridge in 2011, and 11.5 percent in 2012, according to Tennessee Bureau of Investigation statistics.
“That indicates to me that isn’t a blip,” Oak Ridge Police Chief Jim Akagi said. “It’s not a one-year blip.”
He said the drop in reported crimes probably can’t be attributed to a single factor. But there are a combination of factors that could have had an impact.
First, the Oak Ridge Police Department’s patrol division is now fully staffed, with 41 of 61 officers working in patrol, said Akagi, who became Oak Ridge police chief on July 1, 2011.
Second, officers are taking a proactive approach, he said.
“They’re looking at issues in their area and addressing them before they become a problem,” he said. Officers know who should be in certain locations and when to stop vehicles, Akagi said.
Proactive policing includes nighttime property checks and traffic stops.
“They’re doing more self-initiated activity,” Akagi said. “The credit belongs to patrol officers, specifically the ones on overnight patrol.”
Criminals come out at night and try to do things covertly, he said, so that’s when the police have to be most active.
Akagi said proactive policing also includes more arrests. During one recent four-day period, Oak Ridge police arrested 28 people and took them to jail, Akagi said. And that was during the day. That’s proactive policing, Akagi said.
Taking more criminals to jail translates into a drop in crime, he said.
A third factor: a resurgence in the city’s Neighborhood Watch program and its ability to partner with the community.
“The community has a renewed confidence in the police department,” Akagi said.
In addition, Akagi said, the police department is now more visible. Among the changes that have helped are a take-home car program.
Oak Ridge Police Department Officer Ray Steakley said the drop in crime has boosted morale.
“We are definitely having an effect,” he said. “It kicked up our efforts even more than they already were. It validates all of our efforts.”
He said residents have reported that there seem to be 500 police officers in Oak Ridge.
“It’s not that,” Steakley said. “It’s that everybody is proactive.”
Oak Ridge police are “shaking bushes” to catch criminals before they break into cars and houses, Steakley said. He said one factor that has helped are shift changes that have officers working four months on day shifts and four months on night shifts. That allows police to identify unusual activity, such as a car parked in a driveway that’s not normally there, or a light turned on in a place where it normally isn’t.
Parker Hardy, president of the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce, said business prospects review data on property crimes in particular, so information that shows the community is safer is good news.
“Anything like that has an impact on economic development and our ability to make Oak Ridge more attractive to new residents,” Hardy said.
Besides dropping in Oak Ridge, crime has also fallen in Anderson County—10.5 percent in 2012. That compares to an average 2.8 percent in Tennessee last year. In the past six years, crime is down by 27.5 percent in Anderson County, District Attorney General Dave Clark said this week.
Hardy gave credit to police officers, Anderson County court officials, Clark, Akagi, and Anderson County Sheriff Paul White.
Akagi said he has been to shift meetings to thank officers, and he has told them to keep doing what they’re doing.
“This is them,” he said. “We, everybody here, is obviously doing something right. Don’t let up.”
Clark reported this week that, while crime was down, the percentage of cases solved was up and so was the average daily jail population. So were the number of Circuit Court indictments.
“These results come from considerable planning and the deliberate effort of many people,” Clark said.
Still, officials said there is work to do, including to combat illegal drugs and drug-related crimes, such as assaults and shoplifting.
Data compiled by the ORPD from the TBI statistics show notable drops in major personal crimes including kidnappings, rapes, and aggravated assaults, and property crimes including burglary, vandalism, shoplifting, and theft from buildings and motor vehicles. There were also notable drops in drug and narcotic violations, and drug equipment violations.
Still, some lesser crimes have increased, the ORPD said. Those include simple assaults, motor vehicle thefts, and credit card fraud.
Greater significance may need to be placed upon juvenile crime, especially in and around Oak Ridge schools, the ORPD said. Juvenile crime has increased in 2012. That includes simple assault arrests by juveniles and overall juvenile arrests, the police department said.
Akagi said he is not sure if the police department will be able to replicate the success of the past two years.
“These are high numbers,” he said. “But, we will not let up. I promise you we will not let up.”