Overall crime rate rises by 5.5 percent
The drug trade affects most crimes, the city's chief of detectives says.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Crime in the city rose 5.5 percent overall in 2006 compared with the previous year, with arson up 58 percent, records show.
Capt. Alvin Ware, commander of the arson bureau, said 253 structures and 54 vehicles were deliberately set on fire in 2006. He said 209 of the structures were vacant, with several being torched more than once and counted each time as a separate arson. In 2005, the city recorded 196 arsons.
Ware said the 54 vehicle arsons is a drop from the previous year's total of 72. Vehicles are burned in domestic situations, sometimes as retaliation between rival drug dealers and for insurance fraud -- when owners want to get out of high payments, especially for trucks and SUVs, he said.
"Vacant houses remain our biggest problem," Ware said. "The problem picked up last year with copper thefts. People burn the houses to make it easier to get to the pipes, and some think it's OK to enter a vacant burned house."
Ware said things are improving with the new "unauthorized removal" ordinance that primarily targets copper and aluminum thieves. Ware said he and fire Lt. Kevin Johnson work closely with Patrolman Dave Santangelo, who investigates such thefts.
Vigilantism a motive
A few vacant houses are burned as a form of vigilantism, Ware said, citing a sentencing Monday in municipal court. He said Perry Rouns, 42, of Midland Avenue admitted burning an "eyesore" in his neighborhood last month, saying it was wide open and he didn't want kids going inside.
Judge Elizabeth A. Kobly sentenced Rouns to 90 days in jail, 200 hours' community service and 18 months' probation, the clerk's office said. The arson charge had been reduced from felony to misdemeanor.
Ware said "squatters" who live in abandoned houses often burn candles for light or start fires for heat, and the result can be that the places burn down. Juveniles and careless drug users, too, often set fire to vacant houses, he said.
A further review of 2006 crime statistics shows that rape, robbery, felonious assault, burglary and vehicle theft rose. Theft decreased nearly 8 percent. Homicides registered a slight decline (34 to 32), with the homicide rate continuing to be among the highest per capita nationwide.
The city recorded 5,723 crimes last year, a 5.5 percent increase compared with 2005.
Addressing the problem
Mayor Jay Williams this week called the crime rate unacceptably high and told city council's safety committee that he wants more money for police overtime. He said the city also wants to use auxiliary officers once again to augment the full-time force, a practice that stopped roughly 30 years ago.
Police Chief Jimmy Hughes told council's safety committee that his department is putting more officers in the neighborhoods and on patrol and being more proactive when it comes to crime fighting.
Capt. Kenneth Centorame, chief of detectives, said the drug trade affects most crimes, especially burglary and robbery. He said officers doing drug raids often find stolen goods.
"They're desperate for money or property to trade for drugs," Centorame said. "They rob or break into houses to sustain their habit. These aren't guys trying to get money to pay their electric bill."
Burglaries increased nearly 17 percent and robberies went up 6 percent in 2006, compared with the previous year, records show. Centorame said some of the break-ins could be linked to the rash of copper thefts.
Centorame said of great concern to detectives are the armed robberies, such as Tuesday's at the Medicine Shoppe on Mahoning Avenue. Aside from cash, three men, two of them wearing ski masks, left with an undetermined quantity of powerful painkillers such as OxyContin and Percocet, police said.
When it comes to felonious assault, he said it's amazing how many victims don't want police involved, possibly because the motive is drug-related.
Centorame said the lack of jail cells, as well as inmates returning home from state prisons, may have affected the crime rate. He said cutting down on drugs and fixing the jail problem will reduce crime.