Police: Record-keeping shows uptick in thefts

Drug use and thefts go hand-in-hand, a trend reflected in the city police department’s new records management system.

Thefts and burglaries have been up this spring and summer.

“It’s related to heroin use,” police Capt. Michael Orwig said of the surge in crimes of opportunity, such as vehicle break-ins, shoplifting and burglaries.

That surge occurred in the 60 days between April 29 and June 27. Larcenies are significantly higher than other crimes.

“Theft is the driving force behind higher crime rates,” city police Assistant Chief Timothy Miller said.

Out of the 158 thefts reported across the city, 32 were from motor vehicles, with 13 of those incidents reported between April 29 and May 28 and 19 cars broken into between May 29 and June 27, according to the data police shared.

“We want people to lock their car doors and don’t let valuables within plain view,” police Lt. Brett Williams, who is supervising the data collection and storage in the new system that cost the city $365,000, said.

The city will pay for the system over three years and used bank financing to get it, according to William E. Nichols Jr., city finance director.

The technology may be used to produce color-coded maps to show where crimes are concentrated. White spots are the worst, followed by red.

Based on what was reported this spring, the city’s Newberry section came up largely white. Miller said that area experienced many reports of theft from motor vehicles.

Theft is a decades-old problem, according to Orwig. “It’s on par year after year, with a 100- or 200-count differential,” he said.

“It’s been the problem since when I joined the department in 1998,” Miller said.

No matter what administration, drugs are the driving force behind rising crime rates, the officers said.

According to FBI Uniform Crime Reports, city police handled 1,061 thefts and 221 burglaries in 2002. Four years later, 1,110 thefts and 296 burglaries were reported.

Last year, 850 thefts and 228 burglaries occurred. Of those thefts, 83 involved lawbreakers entering vehicles, according to the agency’s annual report.

In 2012, police investigated 880 thefts and 267 burglaries, with 100 thefts from vehicles reported.

Besides records, the system stores information that officers may access while on patrol.

“When we say it uses ‘real time’ data, that has meaning to us,” Williams said. “It can pinpoint potential individuals of interest,” he said. “If we’re looking for a white male between 5 foot, 10 inches tall and 6 foot, 2 inches tall, it will return all of the names who meet that criteria. You can add weight, hair color, eye color, or whatever known information.”

Officers in cruisers may access that information instantly, he said.

“We call it intelligent-led police work,” Miller said. By extracting the information, Miller knows where to send extra patrols, which might end up catching criminals in the act.

“Why have patrol ride aimlessly in the East End when more men are needed between Seventh Avenue and Market Street?” he asked.

Miller acknowledged it has taken some time to get used to the system.

“It still has some tweaks to work out,” said Justin Wray, the city information technology coordinator.

The map is of the county, not townships or municipalities, and it’s not integrated to work with public safety departments, such as the bureaus of codes or fire, Wray said.