Youngstown’s ’09 crime stats cause for optimism this year

Although the city of Youngstown began the new year with two violence-related deaths — one a homicide, the other the police shooting of an armed man — there is reason to believe that the downward trend in crime will continue.

“Crime going down is good; crime staying down is better.”

So said Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams in January 2009 after the 2008 crime statistics for the city revealed an overall decline, most notably in homicides and rapes. The mayor promised then that his administration would make a concerted effort to ensure that the trend continued in 2009.

It did.

According to data provided by the police department, there were decreases in murder, theft, motor vehicle theft and arson in Youngstown last year.

However, there was an increase in rape, robbery, felonious assault and burglary.

The mayor credits members of the safety forces and the work of the block watches for the continuing downward trend in crime.

“We still have a lot of work ahead of us,” Williams said. “But we made a commitment to increase safety in the city, and we’ve done some of that.” And, he is looking for an increase in prevention measures to make an even larger dent in the crime statistics this year.

The mayor and his police chief, Jimmy Hughes, should simply replicate what they did last summer: The administration launched an aggressive crime-fighting campaign that was built on saturation police patrols throughout the city.

In addition, there were two important programs launched that not only went to the heart of the homicide problem in the city, but grabbed the attention of Youngstown’s residents: gun buy-back; and, safe surrender for fugitives from justice.

The saturation patrols have been in effect for several years, with good results. In 2008, for instance, the Youngstown police, Mahoning County Sheriff’s Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation joined forces to launch a hard-hitting program aimed at getting rid of the scofflaws.

Members of the unit were on the streets overnight, when criminals operated. Law enforcement officials followed a simple rule: Be proactive.

Youngstown police and the Ohio State Highway Patrol were also involved in traffic interdiction, staggering their times and locations.

Public cooperation

In 2009, in addition to initiatives that have been shown to work in the past, the crime-fighting effort was assisted by a willingness of residents to step forward and cooperate with police to solve crimes throughout Youngstown.

The result of such citizen participation was evident in the police department’s getting a handle on burglaries in the last quarter of 2009.

“Times get hard, and people resort to these types of things [robberies, thefts] more than they normally would, but we will keep pounding at it and get the message out there that these activities will not be tolerated,” the police chief said.

But without a doubt, the decline in homicides over the past three years is the headline grabber. Last year, there were 23 homicides in Youngstown; in 2008, the number was 28; in 2007, there were 39.

It is important to recall that the 2008 homicide stat included six killings that occurred in one event — a deliberate fire on the East Side that claimed the lives of two women and four children.

This year, Youngstown will have another weapon in its crime-fighting arsenal, an acoustic gunshot-location system that will help police pinpoint where shots are fired.

The city has received a federal grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance to cover the cost and installation of the ShotSpotter, an electronic system that uses sensors and satellite mapping to pinpoint gunfire within 10 feet of its origin and speed up response time. The system is made by ShotSpotter Inc. of Mountain View, Calif. The total cost is $530,000.

The system sets up sensors in a zone, uses triangulation to locate the source of the sound and relays that information to a dispatcher. It can even determine the bullet’s speed and direction of travel when multiple shots are fired.

The system, already in use in numerous cities across the country, should be in operation in Youngstown in early summer.

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