Ashland crime increased in 2013

Ashland saw an uptick in crime in 2013, and local police are now looking at where their officers need to be in town to make sure this increase doesn’t become a lasting trend.

Last year, Ashland Police recorded a 5.4 percent increase in “index crimes,” the eight top offenses reported under the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting System, which consist of murder, rape, robbery, arson, larceny, auto theft, aggravated assault and burglaries.

The UCR system is one way Ashland Police track crime statistics in town, according to Chief Douglas Goodman Jr. The department also uses incident-based reporting, a newer form of crime reporting that goes into more detail.

However, most jurisdictions still use the FBI’s reporting system to track crime statistics and Goodman said that tracking crime that way helps him tell where Ashland ranks compared to similar towns.

“Those top eight are a really litmus test for everything that’s going on in the community,” he said.

The most concerning index crime increase to Goodman was the number of robberies recorded in 2013 – they totaled nine, up from four the year prior. Though not a sky-high number, these statistics worry Goodman, who said that two years ago, the town went without any robberies.

“We worked really hard to maintain our presence in the commercial corridors…to drive down robberies,” Goodman said.

Goodman said that most of the incidents in 2013 came from suspects who targeted Ashland because of its proximity to the interstate. Those incidents are harder for the town to deter with the department’s reputation for being tough on crime, because suspects are typically from out of the area.

“It’s kind of difficult to maintain that reputation with someone who might be from another state who just jumps off the interstate,” Goodman said.

Even with nine robberies on the books, Goodman said the department is doing better than it was 10 years ago, when those incidents were in the double-digits. Still, a robbery only occurs when a weapon is present or a suspect uses force during the incident or threatens to use force or a weapon, and the threat of violence is not taken lightly by Ashland Police.

“There’s always that threat of physical harm [with robberies] and that’s what really, really concerns us,” Goodman said.

In addition to the increase in robberies, drug offenses nearly doubled from 70 offenses in 2012 to 130 last year.  Goodman credits ramped-up efforts by his officers to detect narcotics activity as the main cause of the increase. This came, for the most part, by way of traffic stops.

“Can all the drug arrests we had go back to traffic enforcement? Absolutely not. But I think it’s fair to say that our traffic enforcement efforts definitely resulted in various drug arrests and other criminal arrests,” Goodman said.

The same tough policing led the department to make a record-high number of arrests for driving under the influence.  Traffic stops also helped the department double its arrests for weapons violations – there were 16 this past year compared to eight in 2012. These were cases where a suspect was in possession of a stolen weapon, did not have the proper permit to possess a concealed weapon or had a weapon and was a convicted felon.

“That is worrisome too, when we’ve got officers out there that are dealing with folks who are illegally carrying a weapon,” Goodman said. “That concerns me from just an officer safety perspective.”

In response to the uptick in crime, Goodman said his department is beginning to track where incidents are occurring in town more closely as a way to better distribute policing manpower. He said that Ashland being a small town, makes it easier for his department to adjust its course in response to crime trends.

“We can pick up on trends without having to have a statistical analysis; we’re so close to the activity as a command staff, we can look and see what’s happening over the last couple of shifts and really pick up on trends very quickly and then reallocate our forces,” he said.

Goodman said he has to divide his patrol officers between the western, predominately residential part of town and the heavily commercial, high density area between Route 1 and the interstate, where he’s seeing the increase. The trick is making sure both sectors are covered without leaving either area vulnerable.

The department is beginning to use a method called Data-Driven Approaches to Traffic and Crime (DDATC), a system that uses crime and traffic statistics to deploy officers. Goodman said they are currently running the last few years of numbers with the working theory in mind that the areas in town where most criminal offenses occur are also the same areas that are accident-prone.

“Essentially, we get – I hate to say it – two birds with one stone,” Goodman said. “Our theory is if we deploy those resources in those areas, we can not only hopefully reduce crime, but also reduce traffic accidents.”

Overall, Goodman said he is proud of his officers, who he said are doing a good job in community policing. This comes by way of programs where officers interact directly with local citizens and businesses. This type of proactive policing occasionally leads to addressing problems the department wouldn’t have learned about otherwise. Police officers have also been successful making sure that local businesses are secure overnight by performing property checks in town.

“We’re very proud of where we are,” Goodman said.

The 2013 numbers likely won’t change dramatically between now and when Goodman submits them to the State Police in March. But any incidents reported before then that occurred in 2013 would have to be included in the final data.

Overall, though there were only 15 more index crimes than 2012, Goodman isn’t taking it lightly.

“You look at the 5 percent, you might get sticker shock from that but then realize that was only 15 more offenses,” Goodman said. “But then I kind of look at it from a different perspective – that was 15 more victims and I’m not happy with that.”

Posted on Thursday, February 13, 2014 at 12:13 pm