published Friday, February 13th, 2009

Chattanooga Crime Report: City crime varies by areas


by Jacqueline Koch

South Chattanooga had the Spider-Man robber.

Coolidge Park saw thefts from cars.

East Chattanooga residents were scared indoors by gangs and drugs.

The types of crime committed varied across the city in 2008, though overall crime fell in many areas, according to the Chattanooga Police Department’s annual report, released publicly today.

But just as important as the crime statistics and trends are the ways officers combat them, said Assistant Chief Mike Williams, who oversees the department’s uniformed services division.

“I think it’s interesting to the person outside the department to read, in that you see this specific problem for the various zones or the various units and what they’re doing to combat them,” he said. “Every part of town has a little bit different problems and priorities.”

For example, in Alpha zone — whose boundaries are north of Chickamauga Dam to U.S. Highway 27/Thrasher Pike, west to Moccasin Bend Road and east to Big Ridge — officers noticed a pattern of car break-ins.

In an attempt to curb those thefts, officers set up a bait car with a global positioning system at different locations and times of day. When a person entered the car in an attempt to get items inside, the GPS sent out a signal and property crimes officers tracked the person, according to the report.

“Although crime is down overall, there is always room for improvement,” wrote Capt. Tommy Kennedy, who as Sector 1 commander oversees Alpha team. “We continue to look for innovative ways to reduce crime throughout the sector.”

The annual report contains 49 pages of information about the department, crime statistics from different patrol zones, internal affairs complaints, amounts of drugs recovered, numbers of arrests made and initiatives undertaken to curb specific crimes in certain areas, among other things.

Division commanders submitted reports about the problems, solutions, crimes and trends they’d seen in their areas and documented the training their officers received. The project took about three weeks, Chief Williams said.

“Once we got it compiled, it’s like, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of stuff,’” he said. “You really don’t realize how much goes on until you see it in front of you.”

The report shows that George and Delta teams — which cover the Brainerd, state Highway 58, East Brainerd and Ooltewah areas — shouldered the most calls for service in the city. George had 21.6 percent of all calls and Delta had 18.8 percent, the report shows. Both zones experienced an increase in burglaries and thefts, so four officers and a sergeant were placed on special assignment to address those issues.

Fox Zone, which includes the East Lake and Highland Park areas, had half the city’s homicides — 10 — in 2008. Prostitution and drug deals also became problematic there, so officers conducted several undercover prostitution stings and special assignment drug purchases, which led to several arrests.

Drug troubles

In East Chattanooga, crime rose when drugs were involved.

“Crime rates for burglary, robbery, larceny and even assault escalate in direct correlation to the presence of drugs in an area,” according to the report.

City Councilman Jack Benson, chairman of the council’s Legal and Legislative Committee, said the report clarified the chain of command in the police department and spelled out the operational activities in terms of arrests and citations. He also said he appreciated the breakdown on types of crimes, as well as the areas in which they occurred.

However, he said he and other City Council members may ask for next year’s annual report to include previous years’ statistics and data from similar-sized cities. He said he didn’t know how to consider numbers such as 29 citizens complaints against police officers in 2008 when he didn’t know how many similar complaints occurred in 2007.

“It would be much more useful to me if I did have comparisons of previous years,” Mr. Benson said. “It was worth something to me but not near what it should have been.”

The report mirrors statistics presented in a December 2008 Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies study that showed crime in Chattanooga is concentrated in five areas of the city — South Chattanooga, downtown, Bushtown/Highland Park, Amnicola/East Chattanooga and Ridgedale/Oak Grove/Clifton Hills.

“If you only looked at the parts of Hamilton County where 85 percent of the population lives and didn’t look at those five areas, you’d have a very different picture,” David Eichenthal, president and CEO of the Ochs Center and co-author of the report, said at the time he presented the study.

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