Citations and arrests are on the rise
The number of reported crimes in Washington County has nearly doubled since the beginning of the decade. According to statistics released by the Washington County Sheriff’s Department, the number of citations for criminal offenses rose 94 percent from 2000 to 2009, going from 736 offenses to 1,429 offenses. The number of arrests rose as well over that time period, from 619 to 1,101, or 78 percent. According to current population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, Washington County’s population has only increased 3 percent since 2000, the same percentage increase as the state of Iowa.
The county’s statistics also reveal that there are more service calls today than a decade ago. Service calls to the county increased about 50 percent from 2000 to 2009. Washington County Sheriff Jerry Dunbar said that some of the increase in calls has to do with expanded use of cell phones.
“You can tell by some of the complaints we get that if a person would not have had a cell phone in their hand, they probably would not have called the incident in,” said Dunbar.
It is not just the prevalence of cell phones that has changed since the turn of the millennium. Dunbar said that attitudes toward reporting certain crimes have changed as well.
“People feel more at ease reporting domestic abuse,” he said. “I think people are coming forward more. I think there is less stigma attached to being a domestic abuse victim. They know they’re not the only person anymore.”
Washington Police Chief Greg Goodman agreed that reporting is better today than it was years ago, and added that not only is more crime being reported but that more crime is being committed.
“Our officers are much busier today than they used to be,” said Goodman. “They tend to carry a big case load. Our officers don’t have the free time to patrol because they are always running from case to case. It seems like they run non-stop.”
Goodman said that all kinds of crime have increased, from burglaries to child sexual abuse.
“We see more thefts and assaults. More people have problems, and more of them are on the edge,” he said.
He said there have been a few changes in the law, but he did not think those changes were significant. Goodman said that people are more transient today than they were years ago, and the bonds they feel to a community are not as strong.
“There is a lot of turnover in the population,” said Goodman. “It is amazing how many kids are in and out of the school.”
The school is a source of ever more violence and commotion, said Goodman.
“We are much busier in the school system than before,” said Goodman. “The problems we have at Lincoln Elementary – we used to have at the junior high. The problems are getting younger every year.”
There is a noticeable trend in the number of service calls made throughout the year 2009. Calls increased in the summer and then declined again as winter approached. Last year, the number of service calls peaked in August at 926 calls and were lowest in January when only 631 calls were made. Dunbar explained that calls increase in the summer in part because there are more animal complaints at that time.
“More people are outside and more people have their windows open over the summer,” said Dunbar. “We get a lot of barking dogs. When we go to city council meetings, we ask them, ‘Were the windows open last month? That’s why there are more dog calls.’”
For more, see our June 16 print edition.