In the past, editorials about Youngstown's crime rate justifiably focused on the number of homicides and the challenges confronting the police department and the city administration in addressing this seemingly intractable problem.
Who can forget the bloody days of 1995 when the homicide rate hit 68 and Youngstown made national headlines? Many neighborhoods were virtual war zones as heavily armed rival drug gangs battled for turf and markets. Things got so bad that the city administration's appeal to the federal government for help was met with unusual urgency.
Thus began Youngstown's campaign to stop the bloodshed. And so today, while the homicide rate is still too high -- 34 in 2001 compared to 32 in 2000 -- it does not warrant top billing in this editorial.
Why? Because the 7.1 percent reduction in total crime in the city deserves special recognition. The root causes of crime -- drugs, poverty, lack of education, unemployment -- have not been eliminated in Youngstown, which means that the 7.1 percent drop can be attributed to Mayor George M. McKelvey's "zero tolerance" strategy.
McKelvey and his police chief, Richard Lewis, have made community policing a key component of the strategy and have saturated the streets of high-crime neighborhoods with law enforcement officers. In addition, the mayor, like his predecessor, Patrick Ungaro, has made the aggressive prosecution of hardened criminals standard operating procedure.
The result has been a decline in the number of burglaries, thefts, including motor vehicle thefts, and robberies.
But while Youngstown residents have reason to applaud, there are some crime statistics that do give pause.
Rapes: In addition to the homicides, there was a sharp increase in the number of felonious assaults and rapes from 2000 to 2001. Such crimes of emotion, passion or retaliation are difficult to police because they don't follow any set pattern.
Take the issue of rape. Last year, there were 52 reported, compared to 40 the year before. But as Detective Sgt. Delphine Baldwin-Casey, who has spent a great deal of time investigating crimes against women, points out, most of the rapes are acquaintance rapes and not those committed by strangers. Baldwin-Casey told a Vindicator reporter recently that in most instances the suspects are men that female victims recently have met.
So how can the police department lower the rate of such crimes? Through educating the public, especially women. The first line of defense is to be alert to danger.