Bingham Farms, FranklinApril 23, 2014
Crime down, traffic trouble up in Franklin and Bingham Farms
By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer
FRANKLIN/BINGHAM FARMS — With one high-profile exception, crime in the villages of Franklin and Bingham Farms was on the decline last year, according to the police department.
The annual crime report from the Franklin-Bingham Farms Police Department was recently released and reflects an overall drop in crime in 2013. There are a few highlights to the report though, according to Chief Daniel Roberts, including a substantial drop in home invasions, an uptick in traffic violations and, technically, a 100 percent increase in homicides.
“There was that very notable homicide last year, and I think it was the first one that’s happened in our jurisdiction in over 20 years,” said Roberts.
Roberts referred to the May 7 death of Franklin resident and Birmingham Public Schools teacher Harry Berkowitz. At 72, he was shot to death in his home in the 26000 block of Charles Lane by his roommate and former student, 33-year-old Thomas Ian Matthews. Later, at an acquaintance’s home in Royal Oak, Matthews killed himself with a single gunshot wound to the head.
The incident gained a lot of attention when, before it was known that Matthews was deceased in the Royal Oak home, police from neighboring communities as well as Oakland County SWAT assumed he was armed in the home and engaged in what they thought was a five-hour standoff with the suspect.
“From my perspective, the big story line of the year was the Berkowitz homicide,” said Roberts, noting that everything else that happened in the villages last year was fairly minor, in comparison.
Other Part A crimes including offenses such as murder, criminal sexual conduct, robbery, burglary, arson and kidnapping, overall remained low or decreased further in 2013 from the previous year. Commercial larcenies fell substantially from 19 to nine, and residential break-ins, technically classified as home invasions, dropped from nine to five in 2013.
According to Det. Michael Bastianelli, the drop in home invasions can be attributed to a number of factors, including increased neighborhood patrols.
“Certainly, we’re getting some younger guys in here. They’ve been energetic and end up putting more patrol miles on the cars and are enforcing more aggressively,” he said, noting the considerable change-over of senior department personnel to younger officers starting their career.
Roberts said the patrols are a priority in the villages since the prosperous community often cites the security of their property as a major concern.
“It’s a wealthy community, and (residents) don’t want to feel like they’ve been violated by someone breaking into their homes in a normally safe community,” he said. “I first started working here in the early 1980s (and later came back). It was a concern then, and it’s a concern now.”
Bastianelli also said he greatly credits the decrease in home invasions to the team of about 60 volunteers who take turns patrolling both villages to thwart criminals.
“The mobile watch programs in Franklin and Bingham Farms volunteer their time to get in their car, patrol around and call us if they see anything suspicious,” he said. “Both mobile watches have been around for more than 25 years.”
Statistics on drivers, or rather traffic violators, took up a good portion of the annual report. According to Roberts, the harsh winter made for nasty road conditions in both villages, particularly on bustling Telegraph Road. Traffic citations increased from 890 in 2012 to 1328 last year. Accidents increased by a total of 59 incidents from the previous year, which is a jump of about 29 percent.
“People just don’t go slow enough in those conditions, and they’re unable to stop when traffic stops. We end up with a lot of rear-end collisions,” he said, adding details about one notable incident in Franklin on Dec. 14, 2013, when a vehicle traveling on Franklin Road lost control and slammed into the police station, causing extensive damage.
The increase in traffic incidents is still considerably lower than averages from 20 years ago. In 1993, the number of accidents was just short of 350, and more than 2,500 citations were issued.