By Joe Gorman
The FBI Uniform Crime Report released earlier this week shows local crime statistics closely mirror national crime trends in most respects.
The statistics are compiled with information sent to the bureau from 16,000 police departments across the country, including several in the Mahoning Valley.
The local numbers for property crimes – which the FBI classifies as burglaries, motor vehicle thefts, vandalism and shoplifting – decreased slightly for local police departments. Nationally, the FBI said property crimes decreased 3 percent in 2017 from 2016.
Violent crimes – which the FBI classified as homicides, robberies, aggravated assaults and forcible rapes – decreased nationally .02 percent in 2017 from 2016. Local numbers show some of those crimes have increased slightly, including the number of homicides in the two largest local police departments, Youngstown and Warren.
Youngstown had 28 homicides in 2017, up from 19 in 2016. Warren had 12 homicides, up from two in 2016.
Some of the local numbers do not exactly add up with the FBI’s reporting criteria because the FBI has different standards for reporting certain crimes, such as homicides.
Youngstown police Chief Robin Lees said he could not point to any one factor as to why the overall numbers have stayed relatively the same in 2016 and 2017.
“You always get an ebb and flow,” Lees said.
Interim Liberty police Chief Toby Meloro said traffic enforcement has helped to keep the crime rate from increasing in the township.
“We are a very active police department in traffic enforcement, and I think that has an effect on your crime rates,” Meloro said. “It’s a crime prevention tool we use. People see we are real active. I think that once I have my community-oriented police philosophy built into the police department, you will see our crime rate will go even lower. What happens with community- oriented policing is your own citizens become your eyes and ears and they help you out.”
In Austintown, figures for violent crime in 2017 rose slightly while property crimes and burglaries decreased.
The department averages about 4,000 calls per month, said Chief Robert Gavalier, but he said the FBI statistics don’t account for complaints investigators later determined to be unfounded. Some of the nine rape complaints from 2017 reported to the FBI were unfounded and the others weren’t forcible rape, he added. Another consideration: robberies are considered violent crimes, but perhaps a hypothetical robber only shoved a cashier away from a till, he said.
The majority of the department’s calls are for domestic violence complaints, he said.
Gavalier has been township police chief for 13 years and feels the department is “doing a better job,” evidenced by fewer citizen-filed complaints and fewer accidents in the township than in the past. But the department is busy as ever, he said.
“Sometimes it gets overwhelming. Sometimes [detectives] get behind and they get caught up,” he said. “It’s feast or famine.”
By contrast, Canfield city, which is just a fraction of Austintown’s size and retail business profile, has just a fraction of Austintown’s crime statistics.
“We have enough detectives. We can keep up with any crime in the city and give good public service,” said police Chief Chuck Colucci.
He said the majority of Canfield-area crime happens outside city limits in the township, which is handled by the Mahoning County Sheriff’s office. The city is mostly residential – more of the business resides in the township, he said.
The released FBI statistics did not contain figures from Canfield Township crimes.
In Howland, FBI statistics did not count three homicides in 2017 because the township did not report them to the FBI’s database.
“We had a lot going on in 2017,” said police Chief Nick Roberts said. “We had our hands full.”
As for the 383 property crimes recorded in 2017, which was one less than 2016, Roberts said he believes that number is directly tied to the drug-abuse crisis.
Warren saw a sizeable increase in homicides in 2017 compared to 2016 – two in 2016 compared to 11 in 2017.
Capt. Robert Massucci has said he believed the higher death toll was because of the impact of drug abuse, especially starting in July 2017.
As for other categories, Warren’s violent crime numbers were essentially unchanged – rising from 226 to 227. Rapes rose from 27 to 32. Property crimes rose from 1,509 to 1,608.
Richard Rogers, an associate professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Forensic Studies at Youngstown State University, said in an email the overall trend of the area, especially Youngstown, has been trending downward in recent years and continues to do so.
Rogers said that violent crime in Youngstown is down 73 percent since it hit its peak in the 1990s, when an influx of crack cocaine fueled a surge of violence that saw the city average just over 49 homicides a year.
Rogers said with Youngstown and Warren both recording more homicides in 2017 than the year before was part of a statewide trend. Murders in Ohio increased in 2017, especially in Akron, which saw 42 homicides, the most in one year in that city since 1978, when it had 48 homicides.
Rogers said nationally, violent crime also trended downward slightly in 2016.
Vindicator reporters Samantha Phillips, Ed Runyan and Justin Dennis contributed to this story.