Crime report: Robberies increase in 2006
Polk County Enterprise, June 2007
LIVINGSTON — Statistical crime reports released by the Texas Department of Public Safety show robberies spiked in 2006 with 16 reported in Polk County, with eight of those happening inside the Livingston city limits. The number of incidents reported in most other categories remained steady or decreased from 2005 stats and the number of cases cleared during investigation grew, the DPS report showed. The reports are generated from Uniform Crime Reports tracked by DPS. Its crime records division analyzes statistics on murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary and auto theft to detect crime trends. Determining whether a given incident is defined as theft from a person or robbery is up to the investigating officer, according to Detective Matt Parrish of the Livingston Police Department. In a review of 2006 cases handled by LPD, Parrish said his records show there were actually nine robberies handled with six cleared by arrest and three active investigations.
Two of those cases involved store robberies, Parrish said. "Purse snatchings and other thefts from a person can be considered a robbery. If the victim felt fear or was threatened during the event, the proper charge would probably be robbery, he said. A large part of the determination is based on how the witness describes the incident to investigators, Parrish added. "If the officer believes the victim felt afraid for their life, we file it as robbery," Parrish said. A significant number of those nine cases involved a single suspect, Parrish said. Two 2006 robberies were handled by Corrigan Police Department, with one cleared by an arrest, reports show. Parrish and Polk County Sheriff Kenneth Hammack said businesses can practice any of a number of programs that will often send would-be robbers to another location. "If somebody knows you have surveillance equipment they may not come to your place," Hammack said. "Installing video cameras within the business would help a bunch to deter robberies." Many of the property crimes and assaults also involve drug activity, Hammack said.
The sheriff's department is actively on drug enforcement in the county to help reduce those related offenses, he said. The UCR report showed two murders were reported in unincorporated areas of the county in 2006, down from three in 2005. "I'd like to think that (that decrease) is because we're out there doing what we need to do, but we don't have much control over when murders take place," Hammack said. The number of burglaries stayed fairly level from 2005 to 2006. In 2006, 390 burglaries were reported countywide and the 2005 total was 387. The sheriff's department handled 270 of those cases and cleared 38, resulting in a much higher clearance rate for 2006. In 2005, 48 out of 302 cases were cleared. Hammack added that his department advocates citizen-involved prevention programs like Wise Eyes that help alert patrol officers to suspicious activity in neighborhoods.
"Awareness is one of the biggest things," Hammack said. "When citizens take the initiative it has a positive impact on crime in a given area." The number of rapes reported climbed to 40 in 2006, up from 13 in 2005, the UCR report showed. Livingston Police Department handled 13 of those cases and cleared two by arrest. Onalaska Police Department handled one sexual assault investigation and it was cleared by arrest. The sheriff's department cleared 24 of the 26 cases its investigators handled, reports show. "Our guys are doing more in-depth investigation on those offenses," Hammack said. "We take a real serious look at it."
Hammack credited District Attorney Lee Hon with helping to ensure those cases are cleared. "Hon offers a lot of support for sexual assault victims, particularly children," Hammack said. Hon and Crime Victim Advocate Sherry Sprayberry help obtain a lot of necessary information from victims that really help investigators apprehend the suspect, Hammack said. With that supportive environment throughout the legal process, Hammack said victims feel safer in reporting offenses. A joint research project by the Office of the Texas Attorney General, Sexual Assault Prevention and Crisis Service and the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault showed that 12 percent of all Texans are sexually assaulted some time in their life.
That research showed that less than one in six sexual assault cases are reported to law enforcement. The number of assault cases (family violence, aggravated assault and other offenses) showed a significant decrease in 2006. Countywide, 67 cases were reported and 68 were cleared. The greater than 100 percent clearance rate occurred because some cases extend into the 2006 reporting period, Hammack said. Of those cases, 43 were handled by the sheriff's department with 48 cases cleared; 22 cases by Livingston police with 19 cleared, two cases by Corrigan police with one cleared. Clearance rates for UCR categorized crimes in Onalaska Police Department's jurisdiction showed clearance rates are high for the few number of offenses tracked by UCR data.
The one reported sexual assault was cleared by arrest and one of the two auto theft cases shows to be cleared. Onalaska police also cleared one of the two burglaries that occurred during the 2006 reporting period. There were no robberies or murders in Onalaska in 2006.