- Mike Rutledge Staff Writer
The number of homicides in Hamilton last year tied for lowest since 2012, something Police Chief Craig Bucheit attributes to greater neighborhood engagement and his department’s determination to be more connected with citizens.
“Things are trending in the right direction,” said Bucheit, about the five deaths categorized as murders during 2017. That was down from 11 in 2016, and there were six in 2014 and seven in 2013. As with last year, 2015 also saw five killings.
On the other hand, last year’s number was up from earlier in the decade, when there were two in 2010, and four apiece in 2011 and 2012, according to Hamilton police.
“I think it reflects our priorities here, and what we focused on, really aggressively targeting the people and the places that we know are contributing to the violent crime,” Bucheit said. “In the past three years, we’ve been able to shut down three of our most problematic establishments. You’ve got the J & J Bar (316 S. 3rd St.), Doubles, and Hard Times Bar (25 S. 7th St.). J and J’s closed. Doubles has been razed (formerly at 1555 Main St.).
“Those are all places that, if you look back at some of the history there, they were hot spots for crime, and particularly violent crime,” the chief added. “Focusing and coordinating our efforts to address those problem places, and then taking that same approach to the problem people.”
In other major-crime statistics:
• Major sex offenses were up slightly, at 97, compared with 89 in 2016 and 93 in 2015.
• Police recorded 36 incidents listed as “kidnapping” — not the major types that drew SWAT teams, but most being reports of people being held against their will — compared with 10 in 2016 and 25 in 2015.
• There were 164 reports of motor vehicles being stolen, up from 128 in 2016 and 118 in 2015. Some of those were because of cars being loaned out, sometimes as pay for drugs, and the owners later not knowing where their vehicles were, the chief said.
• Hamilton had 125 aggravated assaults, up from 90 in 2016 and 106 in 2015.
• There were 116 robberies, compared with 110 in 2016 and 123 in 2015.
• Burglaries and breaking-and-entering incidents were at 724, down from 742 in 2016, but well up from 620 in 2015.
• Larceny and theft offenses held steady in 2017, with 1,928 reports, compared with 1,908 in 2016 and 1,960 in 2015.
Bucheit also credits the Rev. Dennis Matheny, who lives on Parkamo Avenue, for inspiring other people to become engaged with their neighbors and report crimes or suspicious activities they see to the police. Matheny sat out along the street with a “No Drugs Today” sign to deter people from using what had become known in the area as “Heroin Alley.”
“I can tell you that we’ve seen it time and again, the best way to address these neighborhood in the community, working hand-in-hand with the neighbors,” Bucheit said. “One thing we’ve got going for us is people who care about this community. They’re willing to get involved, they’re willing to pick up the phone, they’re willing to come to a meeting to help us identify these problem places, and work to get them shut down and addressed.”
The Rev. Suzanne LeVesconte, pastor of Trinity Episcopal Church in the impoverished North End neighborhood, said she hasn’t seen much crime around her church, but months after arrived at the church, there was a big drug bust at a problem house across the street.
“That building has been sold to another person, and has been upgraded, rehabbed,” she said. The building now is rented, “and we don’t seem to have any problems.”
“Now, I know that other neighborhoods in town, where we have some parishioners, are really tough,” she said. “There’s still a lot of selling of drugs going on night and day. So that hasn’t ended in town, by any means. Because I have some people who are in recovery who have a hard time as they’re stepping away from that, not being exposed to that, because of what their neighborhood is like.”
When German Village people get together for their neighborhood association’s monthly meetings, “Nine times out of 10, unless he’s on vacation or something, we have a police officer there,” said Sheryl Silber of Hamilton’s German Village Inc. and owner of Rezen Mind Body Spirit, a massage-therapy business.
“And one of the things we do is talk about what’s going on, what people are observing, what people are seeing or suspecting, and getting feedback from the police department on what they’re doing, and what they’re seeing, that we may not be aware of,” Silber said.
The neighborhood came together recently to eat at, and contribute to, Neal’s Famous BBQ, where vandals have broken large storefront windows three times in the past 13 months.
“In this particular case, someone said, ‘This is the third time their window has been broken. It is rotten,’” Silber said. “I guess that big plate glass is just too tempting, or something.”
The idea was to show, “We’re going to rally around the people in our area,” she said. A large crowd convened Wednesday to support the business.
Some of Hamilton’s annual homicide statistics differ from ones released previously by the department because of differences in two types of law-enforcement crime-statistics reporting: the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) and the National Incident-Based Reporting System (known as NIIBRS). The NIIBRS data include officer-involved deaths as homicides even when they are deemed to be justified.
Some other differences in data came after this media outlet inquired about differences in some annual homicide numbers. The department went back and found some officer-involved deaths, as well as one 2016 death that was initially an “unspecified death” and later determined to be a homicide.
LeVesconte said she is pleased a neighborhood group for the North End has reassembled, with lots of help from city officials and the 17Strong program that works to connect people in the city’s 17 neighborhoods with each other, city government, police and social-service agencies.
Bucheit’s takeaway: “For me, the issue that I saw that was most concerning was the violent crime, looking back, especially in 2016. That’s something that had been an increasing issue. I think that really peaked in 2016, as did our efforts to combat that, and I think the reduction you see in 2017 is a direct result of that.”