Youngstown’s crime rate is still unacceptably high


The overall crime rate in the city of Youngstown declined for the second consecutive year in 2015. But before you even think about trumpeting that seemingly heartening news from high atop the rooftops, take a deeper look into the year-end statistics released by the Youngstown Police Department earlier this week.

Once doing so, you’ll quickly get the sobering message that this set of data deceives. If anything, it will reveal that Youngstown has logged little – if any – measurable progress in ridding its streets of their most violent elements. It also reinforces the urgency for the police department, neighborhood watchdog groups and other anti-crime organizations to call in any and all reinforcements to erase the city’s lingering nefarious image as one of the most crime-infested communities in the nation.

On its most outer surface, the 2015 crime stats for the city show a reduction from 3,718 crimes in 2014 to 3,616 last year, a negligible 2.8 percent reduction. That decrease is almost exclusively attributable to a 22 percent decline in the number of reported burglaries – from 1,397 in 2014 to 1,141 in 2015. Burglaries, a property crime, rank near the bottom of the totem pole of so-called Part I crimes that the year-end report covers. The other more serious crimes in that grouping include murder, rape, aggravated assault, theft and arson. Sadly, the trend lines inched noticeably upward in all of those crimes in 2015.

To be sure, the downturn in burglaries is a cause for optimism. Capt. Brad Blackburn, who heads the detective bureau that investigates burglaries, and his staff merit kudos for their work in helping to lessen the incidence of these very difficult crimes to solve and prosecute.

Unfortunately, the more serious crimes in the city have proven much more difficult to control. Topping that list is murder, for which Youngstown logged a 15 percent increase last year from 20 in 2014 to 23 in 2015.

Even more troubling has been the dramatic increase in homicides so far this year. The killing of 30-year-old Michael Pete in an exchange of gunfire on the South Side earlier this week raised the city’s 2016 homicide toll to six, compared with only two officially logged at the same time last year.

GUARDED OPTIMISM

In spite of the gloom reflected in those and other hard numbers, there is room for guarded optimism. For one, city police have benefited from increased manpower on the streets over the past year, which likely played a role in the clearance rate – rate of murder cases solved – to about 75 percent, which ranks noticeably above the national FBI clearance rate of 64 percent. Quicker and more solid arrests coupled with quick and stringent prosecutions can send messages to other gun-toting thugs and gangbangers that their vile trade will not be tolerated.

Also providing another measure of hope has been full implementation last fall of the new Community Police Unit within the YPD. The unit, which stations one officer regularly on patrol within each ward, has succeeded in initiating crime sweeps and in enforcing quality-of-life municipal laws.

Community policing operates on the so-called “Broken windows theory.” That theory is based on the notion that signs of incivility, like broken windows, signify that nobody cares, which leads to greater fear of crime and a reduction of community cohesiveness, which in turn can invite much more serious crimes.

In addition, Police Chief Robin Lees advocates an expansion of the city’s nationally recognized Community Initiative to Reduce Violence. CIRV, a partnership of law enforcement, social service agencies and the faith community, works to reduce gun violence by targeting young, mid-level offenders for intensive intervention. Expanding CIRV and its outreach would offer one additional layer of proactive protection for all.

Clearly, those and other crime-fighting initatives must intensify their mission to remove the longstanding high-crime stain on Youngstown’s image that diminishes quality of life and repels economic development and growth.

Clearly that is a stain that Youngstown residents can ill afford to let deepen. As such, there is no time to waste toward significantly minimizing the life-threatening dangers still lurking all too prominently in the killing fields of Youngstown.

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