Crime rate doesn't tell whole story, expert says

Crime rate doesn't tell whole story, expert says

August 31st, 2010 by Chris Carroll in News

Law enforcement officers across Hamilton County stayed busy arresting 18,000 people in 2009, but an urban policy expert tried to soften perceptions of a metropolitan area that a study found now has a higher crime rate than Atlanta or Detroit.

"Some areas of Hamilton County and Chattanooga are the safest places to live in the United States," said David Eichenthal, president and chief executive officer of the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies. "And then there are a few that just aren't."

Eichenthal and several staff members introduced The State of Chattanooga Region Report 2010: Public Safety at a Monday news conference that showcased a 51-page compilation of state and federal crime data.

Despite slight drops in violent and property offenses, Chattanooga ranked 11th on a list of the highest crime rates among American cities with populations of 100,000 or more, according to the study.

But 40 percent of the crime happens where only 14 percent of the population lives - Ridgedale/Oak Grove/Clifton Hills, Bushtown/Highland Park, South Chattanooga, Downtown and Amnicola/East Chattanooga, Eichenthal said.

"The mom in East Chattanooga has paid for this data already," he said. "We want to give her access to make good decisions for her kids in the neighborhood or when she talks to her City Council member or county commissioner."

Other agencies can use the data as well, Eichenthal said, including police, jails and nonprofit organizations.

"Here's what we can't tell you," he said. "Why did crime go down in the city? And why did our rating go higher than some bigger cities we perceive as less safe?"

Eichenthal mentioned that some incarceration numbers in the report are higher because it documents many "low-level offenders who haven't been convicted" of misdemeanor charges. He said that's an important factor to consider when comparing the Scenic City with Atlanta and Detroit.

Sheriff Jim Hammond said he thought some of the numbers and rankings were on target, but he disputed the notion that his deputies were "trigger happy" about keeping people in jail.

"We're constantly looking who can be put out on bond," Hammond said. "Then you add on the mental health patients we hold onto ... we've become the mental health hospital. We're moving in the right direction, but I'm not happy with our numbers and won't be until we get these things to more manageable levels."

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