Cracking down on crime

Sierra Rains
Ardmore police officers meet to discuss a case before heading to a departmental debriefing.

In 2014, Ardmore was considered one of the most unsafe cities per capita. However, over the past six years, the crime rate has steadily dropped.

According to the Ardmore Police Department’s annual Uniform Crime Report, released this week, the City of Ardmore’s part 1 crimes have dropped by 38% in the last six years. “That’s a big drop in reporting,” said APD Deputy Chief of Police Kevin Norris.

Offenses such as murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and larceny, among other things, are designated as part 1 crimes.

According to this year’s report, submitted to the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation, simple assault and residential burglaries decreased the most since 2018, with simple assaults down 16% and residential burglaries down 23%.

However, non-residential burglaries increased by 31% and robberies increased by 47%. “It seems like we had a lot of people that had reported strong-armed robberies, basically like their phones were stolen from them, or items of merchandise or maybe a wallet,” Norris said.

In about 60% of those cases, the victim did not know the suspect, Norris said. However, investigators were often able to identify a suspect. Most of the robberies also occurred over the holiday period, with a total of 25 throughout the year and six occurring from November through December and four in January.

“Maybe it’s the holiday times, we could attribute it to that,” Norris said. “For burglaries and robberies, sometimes it’s a crime of opportunity. Someone needs some money and they see somebody or know somebody that they believe they’ve seen with money in the past.”

The crimes that go up typically fluctuate from year to year depending on various factors such as the weather, Norris said. “I’ve noticed over the years, if we have a really hot summer, people get irritable. It seems like our domestics and our assaults go up during that time frame.”

While 2018 marked the first year since 2009 that no murders were reported within APD jurisdiction, one murder was reported in 2019. However, crime overall still decreased by around 3%.

Norris said he believes two main things have contributed to the steady drop in crime over the last six years: man power and cracking down on drive-by shootings.

In 2013, Norris said there was an extremely large amount of drive-by shootings occurring in the area.

“But during those six years, we were able to get our man power back up to almost fully staffed for quite a long period, so we had more officers on the street, we had less drive-by’s, our proactivity was up because we had more officers, so we weren’t just constantly going from call to call to call,” Norris said.

According to the Uniform Crime Report, APD officers took 7,470 written reports in 2014. In comparison, only 5,483 written reports were taken in 2019. “We’re not taking as many overall reports either, which is a good thing because it tells you that crime’s not happening because people aren’t making police reports.”

However, the man power at the department has recently declined. APD is budgeted for 53 officers and with six recent retirements, the department currently has 44.

“I think we knew, we could kind of see about a year ago, that we were going to have a pendulum swing of retirements,” Norris said, adding that the department has to stay within 53 officers and can’t hire more until those officers retire.

While a large police force was helpful for cracking down on crime, Norris said he doesn’t think the recent decline in officers will affect future crime rates.

“I’m hoping that at some point we can catch back up,” Norris said. “It may take us a little bit because it’s hard to get applicants, but I think ultimately in the long run, we will get close to being fully staffed here hopefully within the next six to nine months.”

Some surveys have shown a national decline of over 60% in police applicants. While there are likely multiple factors as to why applicants are down, Norris said a part of it may be what’s being referred to as ‘the Ferguson effect’.

“What happened in Missouri and what happened in the nation after that, within law enforcement itself, within the media and the public perception of law enforcement,” Norris said. “Ultimately, the job of a police officer has gotten very difficult and it’s more scrutinized than it used to be.”

Officers aren’t just taking reports of crimes anymore. In many situations, they have to take on roles outside of their jobs such as family counselors, trying to settle civil issues, Norris said. “We are expected to do the job of a lot of professions.”

However, the officers at APD continue to be active in the community, with several hired from within the Ardmore area, and Norris said he believes that the department has done a great job over the years.

“Overall I think that Ardmore and the community is doing good,” Norris said. “As we always say, ‘If you see something say something’. I would rather them call and have us look into it and then it not be anything than someone not call and it end up being someone that’s fixing to commit a crime or in the process of committing a crime.”

Other notable information from the the department’s 2019 year end review:

- An average of 150 mental health hours, with an average of 57 hours per officer, which is two times greater than the minimum state requirement

- A total of 2,508 continuing education hours

- 18 officers reportedly hold an advanced CLEET certificate and 12 hold an intermediate CLEET certificate

- 1.31 lbs. of methamphetamine, 18.56 lbs. of marijuana, 117.39 grams of cocaine, and 3,538 assorted pharmaceuticals were seized in 2019