As some American cities have seen homicides and violent crime increase in 2020, Dayton’s data show a recent decrease that the city’s police chief called a significant shift.
Also, felony cases haven’t increased this year, according to the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office, and the county’s homicide rate is lower than last year. The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office criminal data also shows a drop in violent crime year-to-date compared to last year.
“What we are seeing is really this significant decline. Over the last three months, every single violent crime category is in the negative,” Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl said. “This is remarkable. It’s a significant shift in safety in the last three months.”
The drop is made even more significant because summer months are usually when Dayton police see a higher rate of violent crime.
The Dayton stats also buck a national trend in which large cities like New York, Dallas, Philadelphia and Atlanta have reported an increase in violent crimes like shootings and murders throughout 2020. Criminal justice experts point to a mixture of high unemployment rates, the coronavirus pandemic, civil unrest and intense stress as possible explanations for the increase in crime.
For the first five months of this year compared to last, Dayton’s violent crime was higher, according to data provided by Dayton Police. Violent crime includes aggravated assaults, aggravated robberies, robberies, forcible rapes and murder/non-negligent manslaughter.
Dayton had 16 murders/non-negligent manslaughter cases between Jan. 1 and May 30 compared to 10 in the same period last year, according to police department data. Robberies were up 43% and aggravated assaults were up 11% this year.
Over the last three months, however, violent crime is down compared to last year. Homicides during that period totaled 21 in 2019 and 11 this year, meaning the city would have one fewer in that period if Oregon District shooting data is excluded. Nine people died in the Oregon District shooting last year in just more than 30 seconds.
The mass casualty event skews the city’s violent crime data because an event like it has never happened before and will hopefully never happen again, Biehl said.
The murder/non-negligent manslaughter rate is 48% lower than last year, and violent crime overall is down 21% compared to last year.
Biehl said his message to his officers over the last three months since protests began about the police custody death of Geroge Floyd in Minneapolis has been to be thoughtful and strategic when patrolling areas. He said the presence of officers has not changed, but the level of engagement with the community has.
“We have been trying to emphasize what’s called ‘focused deterrence’. Very specific engagements with individuals or circumstances that contribute to crime. To be very, very focused. Broad-based enforcement is ineffective and often times is offensive to the public,” Biehl said.
He also said that Dayton is a “small-big city,” and he believes people care about each other here.
“I believe our community has exhibited an extraordinary amount of maturity through an extremely difficult 2019, and a number of those events taught us the lesson about how much our fate and our lives and our well being are tied to one another,” Biehl said.
The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office is also reporting a lower crime rate. The office has investigated one murder so far this year, the data says, the same as 2019 at this point in the year. Last year, the office investigated 185 violent crime cases Jan. 1 through Aug. 20 and this year investigated 174. The office investigated about 20 more assault cases this year than last, but rapes and robbery cases are lower, the data shows.
The Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office also hasn’t seen an increase in violent crime cases.
“Overall, our office has not seen any significant change in the number of felony criminal filings we have reviewed this year,” a spokesman told the Dayton Daily News.
If the Dayton trend continues, it’s possible that the overall Montgomery County homicide rate will fall as well. According to the coroner’s office, there have been about 43 confirmed or suspected homicides in the county this year. In all of 2019, there were 75.
The county is on pace this year to land nearer to the 2017 and 2018 homicides rates of 55 and 64, respectively.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Dayton crime, by the numbers:
Violent crimes recorded Jan. 1 through Aug. 20 2018: 790
Violent crimes recorded Jan. 1 through Aug. 20 2019: 764
Violent crimes recorded Jan. 1 through Aug. 20 2020: 741