Total crime rate in Monett stays low in 2009 report

Monday, April 12, 2010
Monett Police Chief TIM SCHWEDER

The total crime index for the City of Monett has continued at a low level, according to the Monett Police Department's 2009 annual report. Activity in illegal drugs and the number of arrests showed significant increases, but in terms of serious crimes, Monett had the lowest crime index total of towns between 7,000 and 15,000 population in southwest Missouri.

"The Total Crime Index has decreased 24 percent since 2005," the report stated. "That equals 115 fewer serious crimes reported. No single factor, tactic or program can be credited with this reduction."

Notable statistics during 2009 included:

* A 10 percent reduction overall in motor vehicle collisions;

* A 48 percent reduction in the number of motor vehicle collisions causing injuries;

* No traffic fatalities;

* A clearance rate of 66 percent for all criminal cases.

Arrests increase

One striking change was the 18 percent increase in total arrests in 2009. Chief Tim Schweder said the figure really stems from the lower number of arrests made in 2008 while the Justice Center was under construction and the city had no jail.

"Officers used greater discretion in giving summons to municipal court," Schweder said, "and which cases where subjects needed to be jailed in a county facility."

The 2009 arrest total of 591 was comparable to the 2007 total of 596, in contrast with the 2008 tally of 501, the chief noted.

A major change instituted during 2009 was a more precise classification of domestic violence cases, addressing what Schweder felt had been an undercounting in recent years and an over-generalization of aggravated assaults. In 2009, municipal court processed 44 domestic violence cases on city charges plus two state cases. Of the 13 aggravated assault cases that went through municipal court, only two were for domestic violence.

Schweder felt the total better reflected what is happening in Monett, compared to other towns. The change in reporting contributed to a 5 percent increase in the Total Crime Index, a smaller growth than was seen in other towns of comparable size.

Traffic enforcement boosted

"One police tactic that may have contributed [to crime reduction] is increased traffic enforcement," the report said. "Active traffic enforcement reduces accidents and injuries with the side benefit of reducing some types of crime. The same criminals who steal, burglarize, and do drugs also speed, drive without a license and drive drunk. When we stop and arrest them for a traffic violation, we also stop their other activities."

The correlation between traffic enforcement and other crimes has been an emphasis stressed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Schweder pointed to the NHTSA's Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety (DDACTS) in St. Albans, Vt., a town very similar in size to Monett, as a model for how stronger traffic efforts have been shown to reduce crime as a whole when the data for both actions is combined.

"A person has a much greater chance of being killed in a traffic accident than being assaulted, robbed or murdered," Schweder said. "Our officers are working on traffic enforcement. If we can correlate enforcement with criminal activity, we can eliminate crime and other problems at the same time."

In looking at more serious crimes involving physical injury, larger thefts and arson, burglaries decreased in 2009 to their lowest level in four years. Larceny cases were up by 10 but remain 25 percent lower than the number in 2006. The 14 motor vehicles thefts represented a drop of one from last year, but almost half the number tallied in 2007.

Schweder cautioned that with a low number of incidents, a number of incidents possibly caused by a single subject could cause significant change in numbers in a single year.

Drugs a growing concern

Drug enforcement continues to be a major focus for police work. Monett officers continue to work closely with the Southwest Missouri Drug Task Force and both Barry and Lawrence County Sheriff's Departments in making cases.

"In 2009, we experienced a slight increase in drug related incidents, with 134 arrests," reported Detective George Daoud. "The previous two years our total arrests for drug related offenses were steady at around 117 per year. In 2009 32 arrests were made involving distribution, delivery and manufacturing of controlled substances. Ten of those people arrested were near schools."

The amount of marijuana seized in 2009 decreased by 30 percent. Methamphetamine seizures nearly doubled, while pill seizures increased by 41 percent. Commonly abused pills sized in arrests are Hydrocodone, Xanax and Codeine. Schweder said despite restrictions on the sale of pseudoephedrine, persons seeking to manufacture methamphetamine continue to find ways around the existing safeguards.

One area where officers had marked success in 2009 was in stopping gang-style graffiti placed on garages, fences, dumpsters, school and public property in a month's time. Eleven juveniles and two adults were arrested and charged. The offenders were required to perform community service painting over the damage they created in 35 locations.

"We owe a lot of the crime reduction to the community," Schweder said. "The community works toward its own safety and benefit. We would not be able to do without their help."

Schweder had particular praise for Crime Stoppers in generating tips to help make specific arrests. More neighborhoods participating in neighborhood watch programs would also help stop criminal activity.

New approaches

In the coming year, Schweder said Sergeant Dennis Camp and Officer Jerry Harrison are working with the DWI Task Force on underage drinking enforcement. The city has received a grant to begin an enforcement effort in the next two weeks.

The chief said officers will also focus on serving as many city arrest warrants as possible, helping to cut down on repeat offenders. Out of the warrants issued last week in municipal court, officers only located one address out of 20. Subjects making payments over time on fines may move or otherwise become hard to track. In 2009 the municipal court issued 429 warrants.

In the compilation of 26 Missouri cities with a population between 7,000 and 10,000, Monett ranked 11th for having the least amount of major crimes with 365 cases. Locally Aurora was 15th with 513 cases while Branson was the worst in the state with 1,042 incidents.

Schweder hopes to work toward reducing Monett's case count to 350 for 2010. He plans to research some of the other cities to see how their Total Crime Index numbers are so different, like the St. Louis suburb of Ladue with 119 cases and the Kansas City-area town of Kearney with 140.

"I'm surprised Monett ranked the lowest [in major crimes] in southwest Missouri," Schweder said. "That's good. It shows we're a relatively safe community and a nice place to live."

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