In 2018, serious crime decreased for the fifth consecutive year in Westminster, police data shows.
Part 1 Crime — murder, rape, robbery, burglary, aggravated assault and auto theft, among other offenses — decreased about 10 percent in 2018 compared to the year before, according to Westminster Police Department data.
Such crime has decreased about 32 percent from 2013 through the end of 2018, the data shows.
Eleven more thefts, which account for the majority of Part 1 crime in Westminster, contributed to a slight increase in Part 1 crime in February 2019 compared to February 2017, the statistics show.
But theft has also decreased significantly over the years. There were 726 thefts in 2013 compared to 489 in 2018 — 78 percent of Westminster’s Part 1 crime throughout last year, according to the data.
“While we want it to be on a downward trend, we know it’s going to ebb and flow,” said Councilman Tony Chiavacci, the public safety committee liaison. He attributed the steady decrease to national trends, a solid economy, “a good community” and the Westminster police force’s work.
Chiavacci told the Times that when the Part 1 numbers are so low a few crimes can sway the statistics from month to month or year to year.
Despite serious crime being comparatively low, newly promoted police Chief Thomas Ledwell has maintained that it’s important to address the perception or fear of crime.
The city’s Public Safety Advisory Council — a mostly volunteer body created by the council that includes the police chief and a council liaison — conducted a survey in 2018 to gauge how safe city residents feel.
The monthlong survey, which garnered 1,296 respondents, found that most residents feel safe at home, but less so as they ventured into public areas, including downtown. There are about 18,600 residents in Westminster, according to 2017 U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
Gallup polls have shown that there’s a weak correlation between actual crime and the perception of crime.
Ledwell said he noticed the disconnect firsthand when he worked in the Frederick Police Department — where he worked his way from patrol officer to chief.
“I would see presentations where we would talk about arrests and crime statistics to community groups,” Ledwell told the Times. “And there were times where I would notice that members in the groups that we were addressing, the numbers weren’t as important as the fact that they observed certain things, whether it was at their house or their business or walking in certain areas.”
That’s why Ledwell believes it’s important to address both, he said.
Ledwell said the department has begun to implement some tactics to combat the perception of crime, including getting himself and other officers certified for bike patrols, focusing more patrols to the downtown area, and planning a “coffee with cops” event.
All of the strategies aim to increase informal, face-to-face interaction between police officers and citizens, he said. Studies have shown it’s “one of the greatest strategies to address the perception or fear of crime.”
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“The lesson learned and the teaching point is we should get out of our cars and get to know all of our citizens, law abiding and people that are committing crimes,” he added.