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“This is pretty exciting news for our community,” said Dayton police Chief Richard Biehl. “We’re a safer city.”
Asked why crime is down at a time when fatal drug overdoses have skyrocketed, Biehl said it is possible that there is a correlation between the two, though he has no direct evidence that they are connected.
Certainly, some people who die from drug overdoses have criminal records or convictions, often related to their drug abuse and addiction.
“There is a question, quite honestly, whether the death toll is maybe having an impact on crime — but there’s no way to determine that,” Biehl said.
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Strong community engagement and community-police relations help officers solve crimes and inform them when there are potential issues in neighborhoods, Biehl said.
The police department analyzes crime patterns to try to “interrupt crime” before it becomes a long-term trend, and the police department has recently reorganized to increase the focus on violent gun crimes.
There were 535 firearm-related crimes in Dayton in 2016, an increase of nearly 21 percent, according to police data.
The declines likely in part reflect policing strategy, because “what police do matters,” and the reorganization has better aligned resources to combat gun crime, Biehl said.
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Biehl was asked why crime is down though fatal drug overdoses are climbing rapidly, with the death tolls this year already surpassing 2016’s record high totals.
Biehl said people who suffer from drug addiction often commit crimes to support their habits. He said it’s possible that record numbers of deaths of drug users are leading to less crime.
“We wouldn’t be able to establish that without a lot of research and review,” Biehl said.
A couple of years ago, police analyzed the criminal records of people who were busted for drug offenses and found they often had prior property crime arrests, Biehl said.
But violent crime is down in Dayton too, which does not have a strong correlation with people who abuse opiates, according to Biehl, who cautioned against drawing major conclusions from the trends.
Some Ohio residents and leaders have talked about letting drug users die from overdoses so there’s severe consequences to their actions.
Middletown Councilman Dan Picard in June raised the idea of not responding to certain drug overdose calls.
Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones has refused to distribute Narcan to his deputies to revive overdosing drug addicts, saying it was a bad use of resources.
Biehl unequivocally rejected the idea that police should not respond to or revive certain overdosing drug users.
He said the toughest thing for a police officer is to be unable to help a person who is dying.
“I have no question whatsoever what the right thing to do is,” he said. “We are in the business of saving lives. Any suggestion of withholding critical medical care when someone is in a medical crisis is highly irresponsible and unconscionable.”