Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

April 13, 2014

Numbers show overall drop in crime in Valdosta

VALDOSTA —  Responding to what he believes is a public perception that crime is out of control, Valdosta Police Chief Brian Childress presented statistics to the city council this week demonstrating an overall decline in crime for more than a decade and said the perception may be due to his department’s openness with the media.

“I think we’ve put procedures in place that sometimes create a misconception that crime is out of control,” said Childress. “Just because you see it in the media doesn’t mean crime is out of control. It means we provided access to the media.”

In pursuing accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), Childress said his department sought to create transparency, making it easier for the public to learn about crime in Valdosta that otherwise might have gone unnoticed.

“Part of our accreditation is that we are open with the media. This is extremely important because this is not always the norm with law enforcement,” said Childress. “But in this department, I don’t look at media as the media. I look at it as the public.”

The statistics Childress shared with the city council Tuesday show that Part 1 Crimes, serious crimes tracked by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, dropped a little more than 11 percent from 2000 to 2013. Childress finds the drop remarkable, saying the crime rate should have gone up given the city’s population increase of more than 13,000 people.

“A lot of folks attribute crime to something that’s completely irrelevant. Crime doesn’t care about race, sex, religion--any of that. In reality, it looks at population density and other factors like the size of your city,” said Childress. “If you take a box and put three people in there, you’re probably going to have low crime rates. But if you put 50 people in that box, you’re going to have a higher crime rate because it’s human nature.”

Childress’s statistics show a drop in instances of rape, robbery, aggravated assault, motor vehicle theft and larceny over the past 13 years. The number of arson incidents has increased slightly, and there were 32 homicides since 2000, 30 of which have been cleared by arrest.

Burglary is the only Part 1 Crime that has seen a significant increase over the past 13 years, and VPD has initiated several programs to address the issue, including a new burglary unit and real-time crime analysis maps with “hot zones” for burglaries emailed to officers in the field. Childress believes these initiatives are already yielding positive results.

“Since the initiation of the burglary unit, burglary rates have dropped dramatically for March 2014,” said Childress. “We are now using a prediction system to try to tell us where to go. It isn’t perfect, but it has helped us solve several burglaries already.”

Childress attributes the overall drop in crime rates to an improved economy, more officers on patrol, training and improved investigations. Childress also believes that new technology has been important in investigating cases and providing enough evidence for a conviction.

“Let’s go back to 1401 N. Troup St. and the murder of Alfred Pierre Bradley in 2013,” said Childress. “We had a lot of witnesses who helped implicate our offender in that case, Andrew Casey, who got on the stand and recanted. But we were able to show the detective’s interviews with the witnesses, and we said, ‘You’re either lying now or you were lying back then.”

Casey was convicted of Bradley’s murder and sentenced in March to life in prison. District Attorney David Miller said the videotaped interviews were “critical” pieces of evidence in the case.

The department’s Iron Sky surveillance system also supplied evidence in Bradley case and many others, but Childress said he wants people to have a clear understanding of how the video cameras placed around the city work.

“We have the Iron Sky camera system in Hudson Docket and Ora Lee West. Now, we aren’t prying on people’s business. The camera’s record for about 12 to 14 days, and after that it overwrites. It’s gone after that,” said Childress. “But within 12 to 14 days, we are going to know where a crime occurred and be able to look at those tapes.”

Childress also credits improved cooperation with the community for the lower crime rates, including neighborhood watch programs, Police Advisory Board, Citizen’s Police Academy, truancy program, school liaison programs, quarterly meetings with the NAACP and the SCLC as well as cooperation with law enforcement agencies like the Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Southwest Georgia Federal Gang Task Force.

Childress said he cannot point to a single factor that has had more influence over the crime rate than others, but hopes his department’s combination of procedures, technology tools and transparency will help it continue to drop.

“The police work has gotten better. The sophistication of the police department has improved. The messaging to the public and to the media has gotten better,” said Childress. “How are we able to solve crimes fast? How do we solve cases? We have to do our job, and people have to trust us enough to work with us. There has to be a trust.”

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