Is Crime Back?

The refrain has gotten pretty old, to the point that most people react with indifference. Crime is down. Crime falls even more. Crime drops again. That's true nationwide, in Illinois and Iowa, and in the Quad Cities. Except for Davenport. Bucking national trends, serious crime in the city jumped 8.0 percent from 1998 to 1999, according to the city's Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) analysis booklet. And a look at this year's numbers suggests that crime is continuing its climb in 2000.

Cities are required each year to compile statistics on specific violent and property offenses, called Index Crimes. Total Index Crimes in Davenport rose from 8,694 in 1998 to 9,394 in 1999, after three years of declines. It's important to note that even though these serious offenses rose last year, Index Crimes in Davenport in 1999 were still 16.1 percent fewer than in 1995.

A big question is why crime jumped back up, and city officials don't have an answer or theories. A question that's just as important is what to do about it, but the response to that will have to wait for a new police chief.

A Davenport police spokesperson downplayed the increase. "It's always a concern if crime goes up," said Lieutenant Jay Verhorevoort, the department's media-relations officer. But, he added, "you have to go a lot deeper than the raw numbers." He suggested that the spike could be an anomaly, or perhaps that the low level of crime in 1998 was "an aberration" - unusually low. (Interim Police Chief Wayne Nelson was out-of-town and unavailable for comment.)

"There are a lot of factors that go into" the statistics, agreed Rock Island Police Chief Anthony R. Scott, and it's dangerous to read too much into the numbers themselves.

Two categories of offenses accounted for nearly all the Index Crime increase in Davenport: larceny/theft (up 360, or 9 percent, from 1998) and assault (up 288, 11.5 percent). Other Index Crime categories are murder/manslaughter, sexual assault, robbery (theft from a person under confrontational circumstances), burglary (theft from a place to which the perpetrator does not have legal access), auto theft, and arson.

Thirteen of the 84 "areas" the Davenport Police Department divides the city into had more than 300 total offenses in 1999. Three of those areas are to the southwest of Division and Locust, five others are scattered south of Locust in downtown Davenport, four are between Route 6 and 53rd Street, and the last is bound by 53rd, Interstate 80, Division Street, and U.S. Route 61.

Of the total cases cleared, a larger percentage in 1999 (75 percent) involved adult offenders compared to 1998 (73 percent).

Davenport Mayor Phil Yerington, a police officer on leave from the department since taking office, said he hadn't heard from his police department or citizens that crime was on the rise, so he didn't look closely when the crime-statistics report landed on his desk last month.

When the numbers were brought to his attention, though, he seemed surprised. "It has to concern the elected officials," Yerington said. "If these are true and accurate figures, what was the cause?"

That's a question that puzzled several officials contacted by the River Cities' Reader. "You have to examine our community and figure out where we went wrong," Yerington said. "I don't know that anybody's done that. I would be right back to my people in patrol, saying, 'What have you seen?'" Scott said he reviews crime data monthly. "I take the report and see where it's going up," he said. "Crime statistics help show you where something is occurring and help you to figure out what to do about it."

One factor holding the Davenport department back could be having an interim chief following the resignation of Chief Steve Lynn in May. While Yerington praised the job Nelson has done, he said the situation hamstrings the department. "That's similar to an assistant coach managing the team," he said. The acting head makes day-to-day decisions, but really isn't in any position to make long-range plans for the department.

The question of whether crime is increasing is "something the next chief ... is going to have to spend time looking at," Yerington said. Verhorevoort asked police officers if they had noticed any increase in criminal activity since the beginning of 1999. "Nobody's noticed any trends or patterns," he said. But, he added, an increase of 700 serious crimes is only "two calls or two incidents per day," an amount that would seem negligible to individual officers.

The River Cities' Reader obtained crime data from January through August 2000, and although the data weren't totaled by the department, an analysis suggests that serious crime is continuing to rise this year. It's important to keep in mind that crime can be more prevalent in the hotter summer months, and data from the first eight months of the year might be skewed slightly higher as a result. But projecting the eight-month total to the entire year results in a 12.0-percent increase over 1999 levels.

This is a stark contrast to Rock Island, where serious crime dropped 6.5 percent last year and at its pace through August would fall a whopping 22.8 percent in 2000.

Crime in Moline was 8.4 percent lower in 1999 than 1998, and serious crime in Bettendorf fell 12.2 percent.

Davenport's crime statistics seem to defy several national as well as local trends. According to a preliminary report by the FBI, Index Crime offenses nationwide were down 7 percent in 1999. In the Midwest, violent crime dropped 9 percent, property crimes 8 percent. And Index Crimes fell 8 percent in cities with populations between 50,000 and 250,000.

Rock Island Police Chief Scott was at a loss to explain what was happening in Davenport. He said that Quad City police chiefs work closely with each other, and that means enforcement tends to be somewhat uniform. "We talk to each other on a daily basis," he said. "We steal [ideas] from each other. We try to work with each other." If one chief has a good idea that works well, it usually won't be long before it shows up all around the Quad Cities.

Scott wasn't critical of the Davenport police department, and professed that he had no idea why numbers were going up. "They're doing the best they can," he said.

Rock Island has a number of initiatives that Scott said have kept crime on the downslide. For the past six or seven years, he said, "we have worked very closely with our inspections department and our public-works department." Every time the police serve a warrant, they notify the inspections department. If an officer finds something that appears to be a code violation, he or she reports it. "If you let a neighborhood go down, it's a breeding ground for crime," Scott said.

Rock Island has also undertaken several measures designed to reduce crime. The city can tow a car if its stereo can be heard more than 75 feet away, and it also encourages parents to attend classes by forgiving fines upon completion. The city has also banned the sale of beer in any bottle larger than 12 fluid ounces. These policies, while not always popular with organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, have proved effective when combined with a strong economy - which is clearly the largest factor in the country's crime decline. But the decline in crime seems to be over in Davenport. The police department can explain away one year as a statistical oddity, but 2000 looks like it's confirming 1999's rising crime rate as a trend.

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