Arlington police chief reports crime rate continues to fall

The city’s crime rate fell last year for a fourth straight year, Police Chief Will Johnson told the City Council on Tuesday.

Arlington’s crime rate, which is measured by the number of reported homicides, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, thefts and vehicle thefts per 100,000 residents, was down 1.1 percent in 2013 from 2012.

Violent crimes, which make up about 11 percent of all reported crimes in Arlington, dropped 3.8 percent last year compared with 2012. Property crimes fell less than 1 percent because of a slight increase in reported thefts, with 263 more cases than a year prior.

“Since 2009, we have enjoyed a 26 percent decrease in the crime rate in our community, which has resulted in 6,000 fewer victims in our town,” Johnson said.

But even though violent crimes and property crimes overall are down, the city continues to wrestle with troubling trends in robberies, domestic violence, cybercrime and alcohol-related crashes, Johnson told the council.

Last year, Arlington police investigated 430 alcohol- and drug-related crashes and arrested 1,374 motorists on charges of driving while intoxicated. About 60 percent of the city’s traffic fatalities were linked to alcohol, Johnson said.

“The percentage of DWI-related fatalities in Arlington remains unacceptably high. We believe legislative support is required to change the status quo,” Johnson said.

The department continues to push legislators to allow sobriety checkpoints and mandatory ignition interlocks for DWI offenders.

Robberies were up nearly 6 percent for the year. Half of Arlington’s 18 homicides were linked to domestic violence. And criminals are increasingly turning to the Internet to lure robbery victims, solicit prostitution or sell sex slaves, steal identities and make terroristic threats against schools and entertainment venues such as AT&T Stadium.

Officers will continue fighting those issues, among others, through collaborative intelligence-gathering and enforcement and by raising public awareness about those threats, Johnson said.

Social media are one platform the department, which has nearly 30,000 followers on its Facebook and Twitter accounts, relies on to stay connected with residents.

“We have to evolve our communication style to go where the people are and right now the people are in cyberspace. We have to engage them through whatever means are available to us and social media is one of those principle mechanisms,” Johnson said. “But with 380,000 residents in Arlington, we have our work cut out for us. We have to penetrate deeper in the community to ensure we have good communication with our residents.”

One of those recent messages has been a reminder to residents and visitors not to leave their valuables inside their vehicles in plain sight. North Arlington is the only one of the city’s four districts where crime increased, largely because of vehicle thefts at entertainment venues.

“If we can lock our cars and keep our valuables out of view and keep cellphones and computers away from visibility, we can reduce some of the auto burglaries in the north that are hampering us so much,” said District 1 Councilman Charlie Parker, who represents north Arlington.

Residents’ participation and police partnerships with faith-based organizations, charities and businesses continues to be a crucial asset in reducing crime, Johnson said. The city has 211 community watch groups and 274 Citizens on Patrol and Citizens on Patrol Mobile volunteers. Some of those volunteers help staff the portable surveillance towers that police set up in retail parking lots to deter car thefts and burglaries.

In 2013, about 265 active volunteers worked more than 38,000 hours, helping officers with tasks such as neighborhood and school patrols and customer service. These efforts saved the department nearly $427,000, according to the chief’s report.

“We cannot be successful without meaningful and effective partnerships throughout all the sectors within our community,” Johnson said.

For a second straight year, Arlington reported no homicides related to gang activity. The city also had a drop in gang-related shootings, down from 11 in 2012 to four last year, and shots fired, down from 18 in 2012 to eight last year.

Arlington police also recovered more than $6 million in property, mostly vehicles, in 2013.

But 2013 wasn’t all good news.

Police Detective Charles Lodatto was shot and seriously injured during the arrest of a teenager suspected of kidnapping and murdering a 6-year-old Saginaw girl. Veteran officer Thomas S. Kantzos was arrested and later sentenced to a year in prison as part of a federal investigation of illegal steroids. Another officer who was also under investigation, David Vo, committed suicide.

The department also faced increased media attention after a rash of homicides, including the brutal slaying of an 83-year-old woman who was carjacked and abducted from her own driveway.

“Last summer we were losing ground. Crime was up nearly 3 percent,. One of our detectives was nearly killed in the line of duty. The illegal actions of a few former actions caused the city to be viewed in a negative light,” Johnson said.

“And although our murder rate was consistent with previous years, we experienced four homicides within one week in the month of June that shocked the conscience of our community.”