published Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Property crime hits five-year low in Chattanooga

BURGLARIES IN CHATTANOOGA 2009-13

• 2009: 2,906

• 2010: 2,669

• 2011: 2,517

• 2012: 2,287

• 2013: 2,337

ROBBERIES IN CHATTANOOGA 2009-13

• 2009: 537

• 2010: 508

• 2011: 388

• 2012: 476

• 2013: 385

Source: Tennessee Bureau of Investigation

Poll
Have you been the victim of a property crime?

Chattanoogans aren't being robbed as much as they used to be.

Citywide, burglaries and robberies are at the lowest levels in five years, according to the Chattanooga Police Department -- a clear dip that is part of a national trend of declining property crime during the last 12 months.

The number of burglaries -- when thieves break into homes -- is 10 percent below the five-year average this year, according to police. And robberies -- when thieves steal from a person -- are down 15 percent compared to the five-year average.

Nationwide, property crime dropped 5.4 percent in the first six months of 2013, according to the most recent FBI data.

Local investigators credit tips from neighbors and calls from concerned community members as key to the decline, as well as cooperation among area law enforcement agencies.

"This is not something that happens overnight," said Sgt. Scott Bales with the CPD's robbery unit. "Everyone has been really focused on this during the last couple years. We make sure we follow every lead."

Compared to last year alone, robberies are down 16 percent and burglaries are down 2.9 percent, according to police.

But the dropping crime rate is no comfort for the Chattanoogans who have been robbed or burglarized. Hixson resident Jason Wright said a group of men kicked in his door about three weeks ago, and he was not happy with police response.

"The police did nothing," he said. "They didn't give me a report number, they didn't question my neighbors, they didn't look around."

Only 168 of all 2,337 burglaries in Chattanooga were cleared last year. That's about 7 percent. Robbery victims fared better -- 22 percent of all robberies were cleared by Chattanooga police, according to TBI.

Many of the cases that are solved develop from tips from community members, said Sgt. Rebecca Shelton, with CPD's burglary and fraud unit.

"The community really does help," she said. "When you put out a video that a robbery or burglary suspect is seen in, they actually call in. I think the community has gotten more involved."

Despite the numbers, Wright said he doesn't think Hixson's burglary rate is really dropping.

Wright was home when a group of men kicked down his door, and they ran away when he yelled at them, he said. Because the men left without stealing anything, Wright said police categorized the case as vandalism.

"The police said this isn't attempted burglary because we can't prove intent to steal anything," he said. "They want to make excuses and say it's vandalism. But how much vandalism is actually breaking and entering?"

But Bales said Chattanooga police would never intentionally miscategorize a burglary as vandalism, because officers follow very specific state codes that set a threshold for each crime.

"When someone kicks in a door, it's hard to prove their intent was to burglarize or harm someone," Bales said. "Therefore you have to go with vandalism because you can clearly show that vandalism occurred."

He said he understands how frustrating it can be for victims who never see an arrest in their cases.

"There is not going to be an arrest in every case," he said. "That can be frustrating in itself. But we give each case the same amount of thought and investigation, as much as the leads allow us to."

And, he added, he expects the number of robberies and burglaries to keep dropping.

"It's our expectation for [the decline] to be more permanent," he said. "We'll continue on the road of keeping these numbers down."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com with tips or story ideas.

about Shelly Bradbury...

Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...

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