Aggravated assault: An attack usually accompanied by the use of a weapon or means likely to cause death or serious bodily harm.
Robbery: Taking of anything of value from a person by force or threat of force/violence or by putting the victim in fear.
Burglary: Entering a structure illegally to commit a felony or theft.
Larceny-theft: Taking property of another person.
The State of Chattanooga Region Report 2010 was compiled by the staff of the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies. The center has compiled such reports every two years since 2006 for the Chattanooga metropolitan statistical area, which includes Hamilton, Marion and Sequatchie counties in Tennessee and Dade, Walker and Catoosa counties in Georgia. Crime data is collected through the annual FBI uniform crime report, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s Tennessee Incident Based Reporting System, Chattanooga Police Department, Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office and the Tennessee Department of Correction and Georgia Department of Corrections.
An increase in robberies and burglaries has pushed Chattanooga’s crime rate higher than that of two of the most dangerous cities in America — Detroit and Atlanta.
Chattanooga ranked 11th among the top 20 for the highest crime rates among U.S. cities with a population of 100,000 or more, according to the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies.
The center has gathered state and federal crime data since 2005 for cities and counties in Chattanooga’s metropolitan statistical area. This is the third such report by the center on crime, which publishes every two years since 2006.
But some local law enforcement leaders question comparisons in the study.
“I certainly don’t believe that Chattanooga is more dangerous or violent than Atlanta,” said Chattanooga police Chief Bobby Dodd.
The chief questioned the reporting of other cities and stood by the accuracy of Chattanooga’s reports.
Crime statistics given to the FBI are supposed to follow standardized reporting procedures nationwide and the Ochs Center must trust that those numbers are accurate, said David Eichenthal, center president and CEO.
But the report is meant to be more than just a dry recitation of statistics, he said.
“We try to go beyond the basic reporting of numbers and try to answer a series of questions about those numbers that will hopefully prompt policymakers and the press to ask more questions,” Eichenthal said.
Three subregions within Chattanooga — Amnicola/East Chattanooga, Dupont/Murray Hills and Woodmore/Dalewood communities — had the highest increases in all crime categories except drug offenses from 2005 to 2009.
Robberies doubled in Amnicola/East Chattanooga, nearly tripled in Woodmore/Dalewood and increased sixfold in Dupont/Murray Hills, according to the report. The Woodmore area had 31 reported robberies in 2005 and 91 in 2009.
Alice Keith is vice president of the Woodmore Manor Neighborhood Association and has lived in the community for 30 years. She said crime has worsened in her area.
For years, schools and churches offered programs and residents met regularly with police, fire and school leaders to tackle budding social problems, she said. But less money for programs and fewer youth role models have left younger residents with little to occupy their time.
“What we see is that there are a lot of young people in this area that don’t have jobs,” Keith said. “There are no programs in the area for young people to do anything but walk our streets.”
City Councilman Russell Gilbert, who represents the Woodmore/Dalewood area, said working on crime problems in his area and across the city will take coordination between communities, government, police and courts.
Repeat offenders are a major concern, he said. In four subregions — Amnicola/East Chattanooga, Ridgedale/Oak Grove/Clifton Hills and Bushtown/Highland Park — one out of 50 males has returned from prison within the last two years, according to the report.
Those men “are continuing to make the same mistake over and over again,” Gilbert said. “These people [are the ones] we need to stress to the law to keep them in jail.”
Dodd, appointed police chief in July, said changes in demographics in some neighborhoods, coupled with a down economy since 2008, have contributed to crime spikes in some areas.
Some older people have retired and moved away, renting out their homes, he said. And jobless people may be pushed into crime.
Among the 11 benchmark cities on the Ochs report, Chattanooga had the highest property crime rate.
Eichenthal said national data show that property crime didn’t go up nationally during the recession and some cities with higher poverty rates than Chattanooga had lower property crime rates.
Dodd disagreed that the recession wasn’t a major factor in property crime.
Educating residents how better to protect themselves — not leaving valuables in the open such as lawn mowers in yards or electronics visible in cars, for instance — could help cut down on property crime, Dodd said.
“In 23 years in law enforcement I’ve never worked a case where a trunk was broken into,” he said.
Chattanooga police use a crime-mapping system to target crime hot-spots. The chief said that program, along with the doubling the crime suppression unit to 10 officers and linking that unit with a similar one in the sheriff’s office, will help police battle crime concentrations.
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Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...