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S.L. report says crime in city is decreasing

Scott Kisling and Linda Jennings don't need a statistical report on crime to know their neighborhoods are getting safer.

Evelyn Johnson, however, will trust her experience rather than the numbers - and her experience is that nothing has changed.According to a statistical report given to the Salt Lake City Council Tuesday by police chief Ruben Ortega, the city experienced fewer crimes such as aggravated assault, burglary and larceny (referred to as Part 1 crimes in the report) in the first six months of 1997 than in the first six months of 1996.

What was that? A downward trend in the city's crime rate? Could it be true?

"Absolutely," Jennings said of the news.

Adds Kisling, "We (Sugar House residents) do think it's gone down."

Both community council leaders credit programs such as community-oriented policing and neighborhood watch for the decline in crime in their neighborhoods.

Jennings, who chairs the West Liberty Community Council, said it was just a couple of years ago that her neighborhood was experiencing a "rash of problems."

"Now it's quiet," she said. "There's an awareness on the part of the community . . . People look out for each other and each other's property."

So crime is on the decline in the city?

Not a chance, says Johnson.

"What generally will happen is (crime) will shift from neighborhood to neighborhood," said Johnson, chairwoman of the Central City Community Council.

Ironically, one of the problems she says is most common in her neighborhood is one of the crimes the city indicates a sharp decline in - burglary. Ortega said there were 14.7 percent fewer burglaries this year (so far) than in the same time frame last year.

Not only is Johnson not swayed by the numbers, she doesn't believe the city's computers have been able to track those trends for several months.

Actually, most of the crime numbers are similar to those from last year. Homicide is even. Almost 15 percent more rapes have been reported this year so far and nearly 3 percent more robberies.

But burglary, larceny and aggravated assault are all down, according to the report.

One area where the department is claiming a marked improvement is in gang crime. Officials said they're now solving 50 percent of the city's drive-by shootings. On all gang crime, except graffiti, there was a 41 percent decrease.

And while police officials are pleased, they're not willing to call it a "trend."

"I want to take a look at the year-end statistics," said Lt. Carroll Mays of the Metro Gang Unit, who's been working gangs since 1993. "But I haven't seen this kind of a reduction ever."

He credits much of the success with the changes in the structure of the gang project, which added a very strong investigative unit to a fairly successful interdiction unit.

For example, Mays said the city usually averages 30 drive-by shootings in September. This year it had seven.

"We don't know whether it's a statistical blip or not," he said.

Mays said a lot of factors come together to impact crime, including new laws, more money for enforcement and intelligence, and more effective prosecution.

So is there any reason to breathe easier?

"It's a little bit hard to tell from . . . crime statistics," City Council Chairwoman Deeda Seed said. "In order to get (an idea of) what's really happening, we have to look at (the numbers) over time."

"It doesn't mean for one second we should be less vigilant in our efforts to prevent crime in our communities," she said.

She said the city will need to increase its investment in community-oriented policing and neighborhood watch.

Mike Steed, who heads the Westpointe Community Council, would like the city to spend more on putting more officers on patrol.

"As far as just regular patrols that go through the neighborhood (to deter crime), you don't get them," he said.

One thing everyone agrees on though, regardless of the numbers or the experience, the city shouldn't spend a dime less fighting crime - especially on prevention programs.

"An interesting thing to think about is that a lot of people estimate the efficiency of the police department by calculating the response time," Seed said. "In some instances that's kind of a `so what?' thing. The damage has been done. We need to focus on how to use police officers so they can prevent crimes from happening in the first place."

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Additional Information

Salt Lake crime statistics for 1986-96

Part 1 Crimes 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990

Homicide 19 13 16 18 25

Rape 107 94 87 136 167

Robbery 506 482 484 484 539

Agg. Assault 613 501 443 559 624

Arson 127 118 127 108 113

Burglary 3,714 3,997 3,590 3,854 3.501

Larceny 14,320 14,863 16,223 15,450 13,949

Auto Theft 1,002 923 933 1,225 1,197

Total Part 1's 20,408 20,991 21,903 21,834 20,115 Total Calls 124,927 120,718 124,668 133,965 134,722

Percentage of Part 1's 16.3% 17.4% 17.6% 16.3% 14.9%

Change from Previous Years 1.8% -3.5% 3.2% 6.9% 0.6%

Part 1 Crimes 1991 1992 1993

Homicide 15 13 23

Rape 182 187 204

Robbery 474 470 498

Agg. Assault 649 646 680

Arson 122 110 79

Burglary 3,460 3,394 2,823

Larceny 14,602 14,266 12,831

Auto Theft 1,454 1,368 1,397

Total Part 1's 20,958 20,454 18,535

Total Calls 136,024 142,268 172,296

Percentage of Part 1's 15.4% 14.4% 10.8%

Change from Previous Years 1.0% 4.4% 17.4%

Part 1 Crimes 1994 1995 1996

Homicide 24 27 22

Rape 158 148 152

Robbery 502 564 591

Agg. Assault 640 636 739

Arson 82 89 82

Burglary 3,025 2,950 3,015

Larceny 12,931 15,467 14,898

Auto Theft 1,716 2,323 2,873

Total Part 1's 19,078 22,204 22,372

Total Calls 185,338 197,374 199,888

Percentage of Part 1's 10.3% 11.2% 11.2%

Change from Previous Years 7.0% 6.1% 1.3%