The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

March 21, 2012

Police: Big crime rate increase false

Recent high-profile cases may make public perceive a jump in crime, but it’s not reality

OTTUMWA — Despite recent felony arrests being discussed by residents and reported in the media, the crime rate isn’t skyrocketing in Wapello County.

“There’s been several high-profile crimes,” said Ottumwa Police Department Chief Jim Clark. “When you get a number of them in one week, close together like that, even though it’s only three incidents, people think, ‘Oh my gosh, there must be more crime.’”

But that’s not the reality, he said.

In roughly a month’s time, Wapello County has seen three armed robberies, the start of a homicide investigation at an adult theater and a vandalism case with $20,000 in damage. On Tuesday, police reported they’d made a felony arrest in a sexual assault case, and the Southeast Iowa Drug Task Force announced the arrest of multiple suspects charged with manufacturing narcotics.  

Wapello County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Mark Miller said that with social media like Facebook, word about those high-profile crimes spreads more quickly.

“... and everyone’s talking about them,” Miller said.

But the discussion mostly comes out of the more unusual crimes.

“No one pays attention to shoplifter [reports],” Clark said.

Miller said having the Southeast Iowa Drug Task Force in place also increases the number of sudden, large-scale arrests.

“They’ve really been working their tails off,” he said.

Those task forces are important because instead of taking call after call, the investigators focus on specific drug manufacturers, gather evidence, then put them out of business.

Wapello County Sheriff Don Kirkendall said while crime may not be increasing, the number of calls for service has jumped. People are much more likely to call the authorities these days, he said.

“You know, it’s these, too,” Miller said, pointing to his cell phone. “Everybody has one.”

Which is great, he said, when there’s an emergency. But it certainly puts more strain on the sheriff’s department when for a few citizens, every instance that’s the least bit out of the ordinary results in a call for a deputy.

All in all, Clark said, when counting the number of illegal incidents, citizens will see crime hasn’t gone up.

“What I do think is important is that with nearly all these high-profile crimes, someone has been arrested.”

And with the homicide at a downtown Ottumwa business, where there has not been an arrest, he said, they are waiting to find out the results of the autopsy; they have a possible suspect in custody on other charges.

So in general, has Ottumwa crime been creeping up?

“Over the last five years, there’s been a reduction every year,” said Clark. “Actually, 2011 was the lowest reported number of crimes since 1989, so overall, it’s been going down.”

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