Police chiefs pleased by crime statistics

By: Jessica Strachan | Southfield Sun | Published September 25, 2013

SOUTHFIELD/LATHRUP VILLAGE — The 2012 FBI crime statistics have been released, and both Chief Eric Hawkins of the Southfield Police Department and Chief William Armstrong of the Lathrup Village Police Department said they are pleased with their respective city’s reports.

Both communities saw a decrease in violent and property crimes, overall, though some specific types of activity — motor vehicle theft, for instance — spiked in both cities.

Southfield statistics

“I’m encouraged by what I saw,” Hawkins said. “It shows that from 2011-2012, we had a 6.7 percent decrease in violent crimes, and that continues our seven-year trend in decreasing violent crime in Southfield.”

Violent crimes — murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault — have decreased steadily over these years and add up to a 60 percent decline: 1,041 cases were reported in 2006, 745 in 2007, 507 in 2008, 409 in 2009, 396 in 2010, 377 in 2011 and 352 in 2012.

Hawkins noted, however, that the push to halt violent crime does not ease up.

“Violent crime is always a major concern for police chiefs; they directly affect people and the concern within the community,” he said. “I have been pleased with our officers. They are visible, proactive and motivated, and we see that if you have motivated officers engaged with community members, you can make a positive impact in the community.”

In the violent crime category, there was one more rape this year, bringing the number to 34, and 20 more robberies reported, making it 136 incidents for 2012.

There were two murders last year, compared to four in 2011, and 180 cases of aggravated assault, compared to 224 in 2011.

For the rise in specific crimes, like robberies and more than a dozen more auto thefts, Hawkins said the department is “developing strategies in order to address it.”

“It’s important for the community to know it’s happening across the board. There’s a perception that it’s becoming more and more unsafe, and we are constantly addressing this perception in Southfield.”

A look at Lathrup Village

Lathrup Village’s statistics show that both general categories of violent and property crimes are down. In fact, all accounts of activity decreased from 2011 to 2012, except auto theft.

“There’s a downward trend in violent crime and property crime in Lathrup. A lot of that is due to the vigilance of the officers,” Armstrong said. “I’m pleased with this trend, but obviously any crime is too much crime. As long as we keep decreasing, I’ll be pleased.”

Armstrong said the city’s zero-tolerance program for traffic enforcement also plays a big role in keeping the city safe.

“We stop for any violation we see, and so far, it appears to be a deterrent for keeping the bad guys out of Lathrup,” he said, explaining that oftentimes an improper or unreadable plate, a fleeing motorist, or a driver without a license or insurance can be indicators of other criminal activity. “Some may think it’s minor … but we like to stop the car to find out what they are doing. And that way, word on the street is that if you don’t have your paperwork together, avoid Lathrup.”

Armstrong said that anyone with something to hide should avoid the city. This helps keep criminals out of the city bounds, he said.

As for the rest of the report, 2012 yielded five fewer aggravated assaults and one less robbery in the city, leaving a lone report of a victim being robbed for the entire year.

There were also seven fewer incidents reported for both larceny and burglary.

Some of the reports were the same from one year to the next; there was one report of rape, no murders and no arson reports for 2012, just as in 2011.

Lathrup Village’s area of concern in the report was that car theft more than doubled, jumping from five cases in 2011 to 11 cases in 2012.

“Even one is one too many,” Armstrong said. “We are doing our best to patrol where the vehicles have been taken. A lot of it has happened in residential areas, so we are trying to up our patrol in neighborhoods.”

He also added that “hard times” might be behind the rise in crimes like auto theft and that it only means his department will work harder to tackle the issue.

“When we get a handle on motor vehicle thefts, I think we will be in good shape.”

Working year-round

Sometimes, the FBI annual statistics aren’t transparent enough for the department to rely on. Hawkins said that when it comes to yielding statistics to squander trends of criminal activity and even stop them before they begin, the work is a daily duty.

“We track the statistics internally. … Every day, I have members of my staff who are monitoring criminal activity in the city. On a weekly basis, I meet with those staff members and we discuss the trends that we are seeing, and we discuss what types of adjustments need to be made,” he explained. “Every quarter, we assess where we are and make a determination on if we need to redirect some of our staffing resources.”

In 2013, the department has made half a dozen internal adjustments already, he said.

One example of the FBI’s annual statistics not depicting the full picture is the state of property crimes, which include burglary, larceny and auto theft. While property crime has gone down, Hawkins and his team are seeing indicators that financial crimes, like identify theft, are on the rise.

It started in the beginning of the year, he explained, and continued into the second quarter, so it became a target area internally.

“Now, we are starting to see that the redistribution of resources is a success because this trend we were seeing the first couple of quarters is starting to reverse,” he added.

Had those crimes continued to rise, statistics would have shown that property crimes, generally, are on the rise in Southfield, even if other property crimes, such as arson and vehicle theft, decreased over the year.

“Property crimes have decreased, but we still aren’t satisfied; we cannot become complacent with the statistics,” Hawkins said. “We try to anticipate spikes in crime and become proactive before we see an increase. Although it’s going down, we understand that if we are not proactive in looking at the trends, it could very easily go up, so we institute practices, policies and procedures so we can address them before they become an issue.”

Armstrong noted that in Lathrup Village, their data system is the same as that which the FBI receives, though the department uses special tools to combat issues.

Pin mapping, for example, is a method the force has been using recently to track a rise in malicious destruction of property cases to see exactly where the crime is occurring and pick up on any trends.

Feeling safe in the community

As Hawkins approaches his one-year anniversary as Southfield’s chief of police, he goes back to the philosophy he’s seen mature in the department for more than 20 years, instituted by former Chief Joseph Thomas: community engagement.

“Residents should know that a lot of our initiatives started because of an idea received from citizens, and several cases have been solved simply because a citizen reported something out of the ordinary,” he said. “The partnership that the Southfield Police Department has with the citizens is something that started way before I became chief, and it’s my responsibility to continue it.”

Both departments rely on residents being the eyes and ears of the community, and they believe that no matter how minor the issue seems to be, the information provided could be of help in serving the cities.

Armstrong said programs like Neighborhood Watch and Operation Watch Lathrup have helped stop crimes before they even begin. He said aggravated assaults, for example, have seen such a drastic decrease as concerned people help officers disarm a hostile situation while it’s still in its beginning stages.

“There’s been a couple crimes that we’ve stopped because of the actions of the citizens,” he said. “Lathrup residents should get involved; if they see anything suspicious, they should give us a call. We are here for them.”

To report suspicious activity in Southfield, call the front desk of the Southfield Police Department at (248) 796-5500; callers may remain anonymous.

To contact the Lathrup Village Police Department, call (248) 557-2600.