Friday, February 19, 2010

Nashville crime drops with help of citizens' watchful eyes

Chief says citizens' involvement makes Nashville a safer place By Clay Carey • THE TENNESSEAN • February 19, 2010 Nashville, you are being watched — and it's a good thing. The city's crime rate is down and Metro police Chief Ronal Serpas credits neighborhood watch groups for helping make Davidson County neighborhoods safer. During the past five years, neighborhood watch organizations have nearly doubled. There are currently 475 active neighborhood watch groups in Metro. New crime statistics released by the Metro police department show a nearly 11 percent decline in major crimes from 2008 to 2009. It was the sixth consecutive year that the rate dropped. Carrie Fussell, president of Tomorrow's Hope Neighborhood Watch, said officers regularly attend the association's meetings. "That's where we sit down with people and make our priorities," Serpas said. Residents in the community, which stretches from 44th Avenue to 42nd Avenue near Tennessee State University, formed the neighborhood watch to combat drug sales. "That's the biggest problem we had," Fussell said. "Used to be, you couldn't get by on the corner (of 43rd and Albion) for all the people standing on the street. "During the summer, we still see a lot of drug dealing, but not at all like it used to be," she said. "Working with the police department, a lot of that was stopped." The overall crime rate in 2009 — about seven crimes reported for every 100 Nashville residents — was Nashville's lowest since 1978. The per-capita property crime rate was at its lowest since 1972. Rape last year declined 8.5 percent to its lowest level since 1979. Motor vehicle thefts fell by 26.4 percent to the lowest level since 1963. Homicide and burglary rates in Nashville were up last year by 8.1 and 7.1 percent, respectively. Police said the number of murders — 80 — was still lower than it was in 2006, and that there were fewer burglaries in 2009 than there were in 1970. Before 2009, burglary rates had gone down for five consecutive years, Serpas said. "We have a whole lot more people living here, so there are a lot more opportunities," the chief said. Serpas did not think the recession had anything to do with burglary figures. "Probably, if there is any recession-related crime, it might be inter-personal stuff" like fights caused by financial stress, he said. But other cities blamed the failing economy for some of their property crime increases. In Murfreesboro, 2009 saw robbery increase by 10 percent. Burglaries were up by 24 percent. "It's hard to put an exact number on how the economy affects the crime rate, but we do see changes with that," said police spokesman Kyle Evans. Mark Cohen, a professor of economics, ethics and social responsibility at Vanderbilt University, said it is difficult to draw a clear line between the two; other changes in the community can come into play. Some don't feel safe Though every Nashville police precinct showed a decline in the crime rate, North Nashville resident Thomas Williams feels his neighborhood is more dangerous than ever. "I've seen kids walking around with guns in their hands," said Williams, 64. "I guess (the police) are doing the best they can." Serpas said he recognizes there are places where police have not had success. "We still have a lot of challenges," the chief said. Pete Horton, a block commander with the Woodland-In-Waverly neighborhood watch, says a heavy police presence and neighbors willing to call police will help. "If you see something suspicious and call, they will send two patrol cars," Horton said. He says loiterers don't linger in his neighborhood. "They know that somebody's watching," he said.

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