Serious crimes down, call volume up for CPD

COVINGTON -- A majority of rates of crimes classified as serious by the Covington Police Department have dropped in the past three years, though overall call volume has increased, based on a recent report by Police Chief Stacey Cotton to the Covington City Council.

Eleven crimes are listed in the serious category by the CPD. Of those, seven have decreased since 2009: breaking and entering, robbery, theft from motor vehicles, assault, property crimes, firearms offenses and drugs. Four -- homicide, theft, theft of motor vehicles, and sexual offenses -- have increased.

Cotton used data from the Uniform Crime Report that keeps track of crime statistics on a monthly basis and is reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Call volume has increased in the past five years, from 27,930 calls in 2006 to 29,827 in 2011, according to the report. Those numbers include any activity that took up an officer's time, from major crimes to assisting a motorist who has locked his keys in a vehicle.

Of the nearly 30,000 calls responded to last year, 1,663 were transferred to the Criminal Investigations Division, up from 1,135 five years ago. Between 4.5 and 5.6 percent of crimes move on to CID, he said. Many of those are placed on inactive status if nothing more can be done until a lead develops. An example would be a stolen weed trimmer for which the victim does not have a serial number or a good description.

Cotton said citizens often get upset when a charge related to a specific crime can't be pinned on a suspect.

For example if there are five burglaries in the area and "we catch somebody on the sixth burglary, and he admits to doing that one and the one prior to that, but won't let us know anything about the other four. Odds are, we feel pretty good that he's our burglar, because, guess what? They stop from that point on. We don't have another burglary in that area for another year or two. We unfortunately can't hang that one on him," Cotton said.

"To the victim, it seems like 'You never solved my burglary,' and we understand that. Maybe there's just no solvability factors, no evidence, no serial numbers ... But we feel confident we took that person off the street," he added.

Cotton said the numbers reported aren't 100 percent accurate but do give an idea as to how crime is trending. The CPD has been over-reporting crime and is making adjustments to ensure the accuracy of the numbers it releases, Cotton said. The over-reporting stems from incidents initially reported as one type of crime, such as a burglary, that turned out to be another type, such as a broken window, with no theft involved. Both incidents would be counted as separate crimes.

There have been two homicides total in the past three years -- one in 2011 and one in 2012. Cotton said those numbers have decreased from "back in the old days" when he was on patrol, when it wasn't unusual to have as many as 10 homicides a year.

There has been an increase in recent years of criminals coming to Covington from other counties or states to commit crimes here, he said.

A recent arrest of two suspects from Tennessee who were canvassing the Walmart parking lot looking for open cars highlights this problem. Fortunately, CPD was notified and was able to make the arrests.

"But imagine if they had made two or three thefts and got in their car and left. We would have never come across those people again," Cotton said.

Councilman Chris Smith, who asked for the report, said given the increase in crime, he hopes Cotton will feel comfortable asking the council for additional manpower, if needed, during the next budget cycle.

"We've tried to do our part in public safety, both police and fire, to not fill positions quickly and keep them and hold them open so we can get through the budget cycles we've been faced with," Cotton responded. "I felt like that was our stewardship to the taxpayers. But you're right, as those rates do continue to go up, we do need to address them at some point in time and we'll work on that. We'll address it during the budget."