Craig Police Department sees drop in criminal activity

Last year was a fairly busy year for the Craig Police Department, but a year that remained consistent with the last five years. And a year in which crime overall continued a small downward trend.

In 2001, a total of 1,465 offenses were committed a decrease of 12 percent from the 1,673 offenses that were committed in 2000. The bulk of this change came in Type B offenses, which covers crimes such as writing bad checks, disorderly conduct, driving under the influence, trespass and liquor law violations. But the community did see a clear drop 4 percent in Type A offenses. These include assault, theft, burglary, illegal drugs, fraud and criminal mischief.

"From a trend standpoint, we saw a real spike in 2000 that is somewhat attributable to bad checks and now we're dropping back down," Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta said. "Most of the spike was in group B offenses. We saw a dramatic rise in disorderly conducts that year, and we also had a new officer for bad checks that cleared a lot more cases, so the numbers sort of reflect that."

Officers responded to 10,615 calls for service in 2001, with each individual police officer handling more than 800 requests.

According to Vanatta, different types of criminal activity will fluctuate from year to year, and what offenses Craig does see are average for a community of this size.

"We're normal for a community of our size," he said. "And we don't have a lot of violent crimes or gang issues. The bulk of the violent offenses we see are domestic violence or simple assaults, and 95 percent of those have alcohol as a factor in the problems.

"In terms of numbers, it doesn't take a lot of incidents to have a large percentage increase. Our numbers are so small, a relatively small change will appear as a significant percentage change."

An example of this would be the 100 percent increase in arson offenses from 2000 to 2001, or 4 incidents in '01, which is up from 2 incidents in '00. Three of the four arson crimes were committed in one evening in which an individual lit small fires near business, Vanatta said.

Fraud was a continuing problem for the community in 2001, and the department saw offenses more than double, from 10 to 26 incidents.

''Unfortunately, we see more people falling victim to fraud, and more and more schemes," Vanatta said. "We've seen the Nigerian scam, the bank accounts, grand prize winner, whatever it may be, and in general the elderly are falling victim to these schemes. As more people are willing to commit fraud, there are more opportunities for people to be scammed." Vanatta said the variety of schemes, and how suspects manipulate the increasingly complex telecommunications systems, is multiplying and residents need to be wary of ads, letters, postcards and e-mails concerning financial matters.

In related news, Vanatta said the first stages of implementing a five-year strategic plan developed in 2000 have had a significant positive impact on the department.

"I think the development of the community-based strategic plan has really enhanced how we provide service," Vanatta said. "It's given us solid goals to obtain that the community feels is important. As a result, we are more focused on the things we need to be doing for the community."

Vanatta said he sees officer retention as a primary component for continued improvement for the Craig Police Department.

"Ideally, for us to become more successful, we need to keep our officers longer," he said. "We need to retain them as they develop better skills and better investigative techniques that come with experience. The officers we have do a wonderful job, but we continually lose them to larger departments. Because of this, we are in a chronic training mode. An officer who is in the community longer will have a better understanding of what's normal. The linchpin for us to stay on top of the issues is community involvement - without the community's participation, we're not as effective. A person in a particular neighborhood will know what's out of line and it's critical residents get involved for our department to succeed."

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