YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Buried in the mounds of data in the annual FBI Crimes In The United States report is the fact that small towns and small police departments are doing a good job in fighting crime.
That was one of the main impressions that Richard Rogers, an associate professor of criminal justice at Youngstown State University, said about the report.
The report, which was released September 30, is considered a milestone in the crime analytics field, compiled by statistics submitted from police departments across the country.
The report, however, is not inclusive. Several local police departments, such as Boardman, did not send statistics.
Still, the report is a good benchmark in measuring crime trends locally and across the United States.
According to the report, there were 1,206,836 violent crimes reported in 2018 across the country, a decrease of 3.3% from 2017.
The largest number of crimes is property crimes. Nationally, there were 7,196,045 property crimes in 2018, a 6.3% decrease from 2017. According to the report, there is a property crime every 4.4 seconds in the United States.
As for violent crimes, Rogers said he was not sure if the homicide decrease is the start of a trend or a one-year anomaly. He said it will take another year of data to figure that out.
Rogers also said that narrative for the area and the Rust Belt is often steered toward bigger cities and the problems their police departments have, which drowns out the fact that small cities are doing well when it comes to fighting crime.
Two local police chiefs, Carl Frost of Beaver Township and Brent Milhoan of Lordstown, both said their key philosophy is having their officers stay visible.
Beaver Township has a population of 6,437. In 2018, officers reported two violent crimes and 58 property crimes. Lordstown has a population of 3,252. Investigators reported one violent crime in 2018 and 40 property crimes.
Frost said he wants his officers visible in neighborhoods to build trust with the community. He said in a place like Beaver Township, his officers either know everyone on a first-name basis or know of someone.
“We want to be in the neighborhoods so that people can see that we’re out there,” Frost said. “Most of our guys know who lives in each house.”
Milhoan said he likes to combine visibility with “aggressive” traffic enforcement, but he stressed that officers do not always write a citation when they pull someone over. The enforcement can find people with warrants, suspended licenses or illegal property, such as drugs, Milhoan said.
It also gives the village a reputation so that people know police will be around if they are thinking of causing trouble, Milhoan said.
For a small department and population, his department has a large area to cover — about 25 square miles, which can sometimes be challenging if the goal is to stay visible, Milhoan said.
Keeping visible also increases trust, Milhoan said.
“I think with a small department that helps,” Milhoan said.
Salem police Chief J.T. Panezott said the priority for his department is battling drugs and the crime that accompanies them. Salem has a population of 11,710. The 2018 report recorded 22 violent crimes and 414 property crimes.
Panezott said he tries to take an aggressive approach when dealing with drug crimes. He said he has an officer on the Columbiana County Drug Task Force and another officer assigned to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration task force in Youngstown, to help in long-term drug investigations, which can put a dent in the drug pipeline.
In Ohio last year, 83,020 arrests were made for drug offenses. Of those arrested, 77,148 arrests were for possessing drugs and 5,872 were arrested for selling drugs.
Panezott said calls for service for his department dropped in 2018. He said one of the reasons they did was because of several drug offenders who were arrested.
“You get them off the streets and your property crimes go down,” Panezott said.
Rogers said some of the reasons crime is low in smaller cities and areas are obvious — such as lower population. Locally, he said the crime rates for those areas are below the national average. He said more study is needed to find out why.
“This, to me, is really fascinating,” Rogers said.
Editor’s note: Crime statistics weren’t available for Western Pennsylvania.