To say all of the city and Lycoming County crime levels are down is to only tell half of a story.
That much is true in terms of violent crimes - such as homicides, non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape and aggravated assault. But the reverse is true for burglaries, thefts and stolen motor vehicles, according to the most recent FBI Uniform Crime Reports for 2009 and 2010.
"Beginning in 2008, taking all offenses into account, our office has seen a steady reduction in the number of criminal filings each year," said Lycoming County District Attorney Eric R. Linhardt.
According to the FBI, the city experienced a 13.6-percent reduction during that period. The county fared better, with an 11.3-percent decrease in violent incidents. Across the state, too, there was a 3.5-percent drop.
Conversely, city property crimes rose 8.3 percent and county crimes in that category, by 7 percent.
In 2011, Linhardt said the district attorney's office handled the fewest criminal filings since 1991.
"That's what is most important to us," said city Police Chief Gregory A. Foresman. "We must keep the city running smoothly and improve its overall economic health."
The FBI didn't record drug arrests for possession and delivery or driving under the influence offenses, Linhardt said.
Despite that, DUIs accounted for 65 percent of the district attorney office caseload.
Nearly 90 percent of the DUI cases that involved first-time offenders - who are ordered by a judge to the accelerated rehabilitative disposition program enabling them to have their record expunged upon successful completion - are disposed of in fewer than 120 days, Linhardt said.
Another way to deter crime, Linhardt said, is to ask county judges to impose longer sentences. "We're trying to get our judges to impose harsher sentences," he said.
In 2009, the county was second to Franklin County in sending the guilty to state prison, he said.
On average, Linhardt said, his office has a 97-percent conviction rate.
State Trooper Mike Knight cautioned that statistics fluctuate.
"If the city and county are experiencing a drop, we would also show those numbers," Knight said. "Statistics have a tendency to go up and down."
Calls for service and other statistics
Police Capt. Michael Orwig, patrol division supervisor, said the calls for service generally stay between 14,000 to more than 15,000 a year.
"That's absurd," he said. "That's half the city population."
The patrol division comprises 30 officers.
In 2008, the city police responded to 15,491 calls. A year later, that dropped to 15,268, Orwig said.
In 2010, police handled 14,337 calls while last year the call volume dropped to 14,423, according to police records.
"Those are dispatches for service, not including walk-ins," Orwig said.
Meanwhile, burglaries rose between 2009, when the department responded to 196, and 2010, when 233 were recorded.
Police are averaging two responses to accidents per day, or about 700 a year. "That's an average of two a day, seven days a week," Orwig said.
Domestic disputes and non-criminal calls rose.
"We respond by protocol when called by the 911 center dispatcher," Foresman said. "We have people calling us when a neighbor's water pipe leaks and fills up their basement or if their leaves blow in their yard. When the caller dials and asks for police and the dispatcher says, 'property dispute,' we have to go."
Domestic abuse incidents are on the rise in the county.
"We dedicate more of our attention these days to family court-related matters, which, by their very nature are emotionally charged," county Sheriff Mark Lusk said. "We serve probably 10 protection from abuse orders a week."
City police handled 1,917 domestic disturbances and other type of disturbance calls last year, Orwig said. The department responded to 552 calls for disorderly conduct, trespass, summary trespass and public drunkenness, he added.
Crimes of opportunity spike
"We're seeing more crimes of opportunity," said city Police Capt. Raymond O. Kontz III, who oversees the criminal investigative division.
"A lot of it is preventable," he said.
Stolen vehicle incidents increased from 35 in 2010 to 52 a year later, he said.
Last year, city police investigated 87 reports of vehicles with items taken valued at $50 or less.
However, when the value of the items taken from inside cars and trucks was between $50 and $200, police responded to 99 incidents. They went to 111 such incidents when the stolen goods amounted to $2,000 or more.
To demonstrate the spike over a year's time, Kontz showed how police responded to 60 incidents in 2010 involving property stolen from a vehicle that was under $50; 63 incidents regarding items costing between $50 and $200 and when the materials taken were valued at $2,000 and above, police investigated 99 cases.
Warrants served for suspects who are wanted in the city, but are on the run and living elsewhere rose, too.
"We had 60 'outside warrants' served in 2010," Kontz said. A year later the number jumped to 102 warrants.
Many, not all, were involved in the drug trade, he said.
"We have transients that impact the crime," Foresman said. When asked why property crime is up, he replied: "I can't say why because it could be a number of things. I think the economy has somewhat to do with it."
Stats, a part of the overall picture
County First Assistant Public Defender Nicole Spring gave credence to what FBI statistics showed about violent crime levels dropping.
"I have noticed fewer defendants who have been charged with firearms offenses," she said. "Not as many as I did two years ago."
However, she added, the criminal caseloads in district and county court have not lessened.
County Chief Public Defender William Miele said he believed crime overall was up, perhaps not serious crime, but property crime rising didn't surprise him.
Miele said he believed not all incidents investigated result in arrests. Police have to prioritize, he said.
While Spring has noticed fewer gun-related cases over the past two years, it appears more individuals are choosing to arm themselves, according to statistics on gun permit applications at Lusk's office.
"We've had a 30-percent increase in our license to carry a firearm count," Lusk said.
In fact, since February 2011, personnel on the third floor of the county courthouse have processed 3,280 licenses. Between January and early April, the office processed more than 1,046 licenses, putting it on a path to exceed 4,000 by the end of the year.
"We're going to be on a run to process 4,300 licenses this year," Lusk said.
Whether individuals are arming themselves because of fears about becoming a victim of crime or whether the transition from paper permits to snazzy color photographs and laminated IDs are the reason, Lusk said he was not certain.
More training, funding for police
As the year moves on, City Council will be asked to vote on a $419,000 COPS grant the city is eligible to receive from the U.S. Department of Justice to hire two more patrol officers.
"We'd like to get a vote on it by the end of May," Foresman said. "City Council has no deadline."
The grant pays for two officers for three years and the fourth year of the grant will require the officers who were hired under the grant to be retained.
The estimated cost, according to Foresman, has been put at about $200,000 for the fourth year.
"You're going to see a savings between hiring a first-year officer for $40,000 and senior officers who get $65,000," he said.
"Statistics can change quickly," he said. "We could have two shootings, three stabbings and a homicide in one day. We're constantly evaluating crime regardless of statistics."
Foresman said a key to crime fighting is neighborhood watch groups and people staying alert.
Neighborhood crime watches benefit society and the police investigating crime, he said. "Without their eyes and ears, we would be at a disadvantage."
"They are in tune with their surroundings and know what is unusual or not and it makes it easier for us to identify crime."