Theft, property damage falling in FL

End-of-year report indicates success of community policing efforts 


Screen shot 2014-02-05 at 11.58.54 AMClint Riese
News Editor

The numbers don’t lie: End-of-year data shows that the Forest Lake Police Department’s increased emphasis on community outreach is paying off in reduced criminal activity.

From 2012 to last year, reports of theft and property damage dropped 33 percent and 22 percent, respectively, according to incident data compiled by the department.

But there’s more: Combined, reports falling in the main categories of those offenses were down more than 46 percent from 2009, from 517 to 278.

Capt. Greg Weiss attributes much of the drop in such crimes to community policing efforts instated by Chief Rick Peterson.

“I honestly believe it’s our chief’s directive with community policing,” Weiss said. “In theft and property damage, there is evidence that a good community police department, backed up with a community, will reduce such quality-of-life crimes, which makes it a better community to live in.”

The community policing efforts have taken many forms since Peterson became chief in 2011, from the reinstatement of the department’s Bike Patrol to Detective Ashley LaValle’s public presentations on crime prevention.

Also, each of the department’s 26 officers carry “open door” cards they issue when they notice open garage doors or unlocked vehicles in parking lots. Officers delivered 951 cards in 2013, up from 417 in 2012 and 128 the year before.

Officers will awaken homeowners who leave their garage doors open overnight. Weiss said such residents are grateful “99.9 percent of the time.”

“It’s not a coincidence that we’ve doubled our open-door checks and theft and property damage are down.”

Inside the numbers

The department in 2013 recorded 88 property damage incidents involving private property, 17 involving public property and 12 involving businesses. The numbers for private property and businesses marked five-year lows.

Seventy-eight incidents of theft from buildings were recorded last year, as well as 70 from motor vehicles and 13 from yards. Each is the lowest total in the seven-year record on file.

The department processed 15,230 total incidents in 2013, down 183 from an all-time high in 2012. Minnesota criminal justice agencies must provide certain incident and arrest data to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to meet state and federal reporting requirements.

Other findings

Most categories reflected consistent levels of incidents or a small sample size. Others showed significant variation.

While theft and property damage decreased, the amount of burglaries rose to tie the highest amount in the seven-year record. Over all burglary categories, the department processed 68 incidents, up from 47 in 2012.

“There is a lot to be said for locking your stuff up,” Weiss said. “We have very few first-degree burglaries, involving occupied homes. Get to know your neighbors, and have them get to know you.”

Also climbing was shoplifting. Incidents involving less than $250 worth of goods totaled 36, the highest on record. While Weiss said the economy can affect shoplifting and burglary rates, the department has also been working with local stores on how to handle shoplifting.

“It may be that the numbers increased because awareness increased,” he said, also pointing out the rising number of retail stores.

Seat belt usage continues to rate below levels of surrounding communities, Weiss said, and the department utilized extra grant money for enforcement saturations in 2013. That led to the issuance of 261 citations, up from 153 in 2012. Even more grant money is available this year, Weiss said.

Last year also brought a high number of incidents involving suicidal subjects. Seventy-five such incidents were processed, by far the highest in the seven-year record.  The department handled five suicides, also the highest mark.