Police laud overall drop in 2015 crime numbers despite spike in assaults

Police laud overall drop in 2015 crime numbers despite spike in assaults

By Erich Wagner (File photo)

Although officials with the Alexandria Police Department celebrated statistics showing that overall crime dropped by 2.4 percent in 2015, they said they are continuing to work to curb an alarming increase in aggravated assaults.

Although many categories of crime remained flat — homicides, robberies and auto thefts — or dropped — burglaries and larcenies — between 2014 and 2015, police saw a 26.7 percent uptick in rapes last year, from 15 to 19, and a 42.3 percent increase in the number of aggravated assaults, with 148 such incidents in 2015 compared with 104 in 2014.

Deputy Police Chief David Huchler, who oversees the department’s investigations bureau, said given the nature of assaults, it is often harder for officers to make a dent in those crimes preventatively, when compared with crimes like robberies and theft.

“This is one of the more difficult crimes that we can have a direct impact on,” Huchler said. “That’s not to say we can’t, but if you look at the numbers, I think we had maybe 87 incidents of those aggravated assaults [in 2015] where the people were known to each other — either acquaintances, domestic-related or ones that occur in the workplace.

“So when we look at those, it becomes difficult to when the subjects are known to each other. … When we talk about aggravated assaults, they’re typically spontaneous … so it’s more difficult to intervene proactively because we show up after the fact.”

While police are still studying the data within the 2015 statistics, Huchler said the department works closely with a variety of city agencies to prevent instances of domestic violence, which fall into the aggravated assault category.

“I think we had about 41 incidents that were domestic-related,” he said. “We have a very strong domestic violence program in the department that works closely with the city commission for women, and those we’ve continued those efforts to prevent incidents and to prevent recidivism.”

Part of the department’s policy is to try to connect victims of domestic violence to city resources when officers respond to an incident.

“We work very closely with the commission for women, so when our officers take a report, we ensure all resources that are needed to assist that family or that victim come into play,” Huchler said. “When an officer is on scene, taking a report, they put the victim in contact with a domestic violence counselor, and ensure that that person, that victim, male or female, are getting or are aware of the resources available as soon as the incident occurs.

“Domestic violence is a crime, obviously, and police play a huge part in the investigation of that crime, but our success in intervening and mitigating comes through our collaboration with city departments, mental health and domestic violence counselors, women’s shelters and the like.”

Despite the difficulty in preventing aggravated assaults in a traditional sense, Huchler said officials are analyzing data to see if there are pockets where such crimes occur within certain neighborhoods of the city.

“We have analysts who are always breaking stats down by type and by geography,” he said. “So that if there’s a way to deploy resources in an area with a considerably higher number of incidents, we can deploy more resources to see what’s occurring in that area and providing the opportunity for that type of crime.”

Looking at the positive results of the 2015 crime statistics, Huchler attributed the drop in crimes like robberies and larcenies to the department’s method for deploying extra officers to different areas of the city.

“For burglaries and larcenies, a lot of proactive work is being done by the patrol and operations bureau,” he said. “Rather than just responding to crimes, we’re taking a lot of steps to work with the community on the strategic placement of resources. A lot of that is computer analysis of crime and then doing problem-solving efforts and working with the community to get ahead of crime before it occurs.”

One of Police Chief Earl Cook’s big focuses for 2016 piggybacks off of that spirit of cooperation with residents, Huchler said.

“The chief’s big push this year is community engagement,” he said. “We’ve been doing community policing for a number of years to ensure we’re involving the community with information and strategies in how we can make neighborhoods safer or improve people’s quality of life. Last year we did a lot of outreach with the chief himself, and as we reach the warmer months, we will get out and engage the community.

“Members of the community are the experts on what’s occurring in their neighborhoods, so we need to collaborate with them to meet their needs and expectations.”