Athens Police Goals Largely Met In 2013

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The Athens Police Department set goals to shift the “party school” reputation, calm crime through traffic stops and continue policing noise complaints, all of which officials say they have done in the last year.

Police Chief Tom Pyle said the community initiatives, including victim’s outreach, graffiti clean-up and programs for low income families have also been successful in the city.

“I’m proud of what we’ve been able to do and I want to make sure we continue doing well,” Pyle said.

The department performed under budget in 2013, using or intending to use $3,842,032 of their $3,878,928 budgeted allowed from the city’s General Fund.

Wages, overtime and insurance costs composed most of the budget. The department has 25 sworn officers including the Pyle and Capt. Ralph Harvey, 14 reserve officers, four communication officers, four parking enforcement officers and six civilian employees, according to the report.

One of the goals for 2014 is to keep the current staffing levels, despite upcoming retirements.

“(The retirements) concern me, because we’ve been able to stay at our current staffing for a while,” Pyle said. “But I’m not worried about getting back to normal levels.”

One unit that will not be returning to the force after 2014 is the canine unit, which was utilized 67 times for a total of 89 arrests on narcotics and other violations, the report stated. The unit collected a total of $13,849 in drugs, $23,503 in cash and 29 weapons.

The canine unit was used many times in traffic stops, which made up the most amounts of service calls officers made during 2013. Pyle did not specify why the canine unit would be removed after 2014, and calls for clarification were not immediately returned.

Pyle said the traffic stops “appear to have had a calming effect on other crime.”

The department recorded 2,008 traffic stops for the year, up from 1,493 in 2012.

No homicides were reported, which lead to a focus on other crimes within the Criminal Investigations Unit (CIU).

“Even though there were no major investigations initiated by the CIU during the year, the CIU spent a tremendous amount of time investigating violent crimes of robbery, serious assaults and property crimes,” wrote Lt. Jeff McCall, CIU Division leader in the annual report.

These crimes included burglaries, thefts, credit card fraud and forgeries, McCall said.

Thefts were second on the list, with 789, which was down from 794 in 2012. Reports of a large amount of burglaries came toward the end of the year, but overall, only 191 burglaries were found, a decrease from 249 in 2012.

The department has been vocal about efforts to decrease noise violations and nuisance party calls in their jurisdiction.

Noise complaints were the third highest number of calls for service at the department. There were 722 noise complaints in 2013, compared to 827 in 2012, according to statistics provided by the department.

“That’s been a big thing that we think has really had a positive effect on the city,” Pyle said.

As for 2013 goals that were not met, plans to have a full-time prescription drug box at the police department may be dropped as a goal, the report stated, since the focus of the department has been on enforcement and investigation.

Also at a stand-still is the goal to pursue grants for a Multi-Agency Radio Communication System (MARCS) in partnership with the Ohio University Police Department.

“We haven’t applied to any grants yet, but we’re looking into the possibility,” Pyle said.

Grants that were obtained in 2013 included a $30,000 Justice Assistance grant was given to the department to partially fund marked cruisers to replace aging vehicles.

An Ohio Criminal Services grant from the Violence Against Women Act, the amount of which was not given in the report, funded a licensed social worker for the Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Unit.

In other accomplishments throughout the year, Pyle notes that the School Safety Committee that was created in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in 2012 has made strides in developing ‘active shooter’ scenarios and strategies for schools.

“We have been able to accomplish much in just this past year,” Pyle wrote in the report. “Coordinating training for teachers and administrators, developing strategies for ‘active shooter’ scenarios, and making general improvements to other safety concerns such as traffic patterns around the schools, pedestrian safety, etc.”

The committee approached State Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Albany, about decreasing the amount of fire drills to allow time for active shooter/rapid response scenarios.

Pyle argued that the current safety drill mandates “seem archaic compared to the reality of the 21st century,” according to the report.

Phillips proposed the legislation and members of the committee testified for the legislative committee that is still reviewing the legislation, the report stated.

In 2014, Pyle hopes to obtain an unmarked vehicle for the CIU and continue the traffic enforcement efforts.

“I think we’re doing well, but there’s always room for improvement, like there is with anything,” Pyle said.