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Crime still low in Birmingham — except for fraud — report says

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published February 15, 2016

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BIRMINGHAM — The Birmingham Police Department released its annual report last week, and the summary of crime during 2015 is probably what residents might expect: Street crime is still low, crimes of opportunity have remained steady, and fraud scams are through the roof.

Chief Don Studt said Birmingham, which has always been known as a safe community, beefed up its reputation in 2015 with fewer assaults, incidents of vandalism, arsons and burglaries.

“Why our burglary (reports) is at this all-time low, I have no idea. But hey, don’t fight it. It’s just remarkable to me,” said Studt.

Burglaries, of course, aren’t the same as general larcenies, which increased last year by two reports to 158. That’s still a drop, though, from 2013, which saw 187 incidents.

“Most of our larcenies are petty larcenies, mostly from unlocked cars,” Studt explained. “If people would just lock their cars, that number would go down by 80 percent.”

Crimes of opportunity have long been a problem in the city and most municipalities that surround Birmingham, according to Studt.

“We’ve got some stolen cars that were recovered, and not only were they unlocked, (but) the keys were left in the car,” he said. “A lot of this is preventable.”

Fraud, on the other hand, is a bit harder to thwart. Between IRS phone scams, identity theft, counterfeiting and other such crimes, fraud has been on the rise for years.

Incidents of forgery and counterfeiting went from four in 2013 and six in 2014 to 17 in 2015. There were 181 reports of fraud last year, compared to 105 in 2014 and 84 in 2013.

Studt said the incidents are hard to investigate and prosecute, since many of the perpetrators operate overseas and work by phone or computer.

“That’s one of those things that doesn’t originate in town and doesn’t end in town, generally,” he said.

But police have hardly given up on hunting down the scammers. Studt said Birmingham police will look to become involved with an interagency task force, similar to Oakland County’s Narcotics Enforcement Team, or NET.

“What we’re looking to do next year is assign an officer to a multijurisdictional task force that’s coordinated by the Secret Service or FBI. Both are out there — we just haven’t made a decision as to which would be better for our purposes,” he said.

With the new fiscal year starting in July, involvement in such a team could come as early as the fall, he said.

In the meantime, police will continue to try to educate the public as to how they can protect their identity and vet potential scams.

Even the Birmingham Shopping District is getting in on the action. Though the city overall saw more cases of counterfeiting last year, BSP Executive Director John Heiney said the retailers downtown didn’t see too much of a spike in those crimes.

“It was pretty average,” he said, explaining that there were a few notable incidents to speak of involving fraudulent checks and, in particular, a man who used fake $50 bills to shop at three downtown businesses between Nov. 30 and Dec. 3.

“The police communicate everything like that to us, and what we try to do is report it to other stores,” said Heiney. “If there’s someone trying to pass bad checks or something, we’ll send something out to help merchants be on the lookout. It usually happens around the holidays; criminals try to take advantage of the busy season.”

To see the full Birmingham Police Department annual report for 2015, visit www.bhamgov.org.

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