COLUMBIA — Overall crime in Columbia decreased between 2011 and 2012, according to data provided by the Columbia Police Department for the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Reports.
Property crimes as a whole— burglary, larceny and auto theft — decreased. Auto thefts were the only property crimes that increased — by one incident.
Columbia police spokeswoman Latisha Stroer gave a lot of credit for the decreases to educating the public and proactive patrols, especially during student breaks. Before Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, Columbia police released tips on safety aimed at students going home for the break or people going on vacations, Stroer said.
During those breaks, Stroer said officers worked overtime, patrolling in marked and unmarked cars, as well as in plain clothes and uniform to deter crime.
Stroer said after one night with multiple auto thefts and break-ins, an officer on foot patrol started checking cars regularly and leaving notes with educational materials on unlocked cars.
Although violent crimes as a whole decreased, the number of reported rapes increased. But Stroer noted this does not necessarily mean rape has become more prevalent but that victims could be alerting law enforcement more often.
The Police Department worked with MU's Sexual Assault Response Team and the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center on how to report rapes, Stroer said. Among these efforts was getting detailed reporting information included in the MU student handbook.
She said the numbers could also be skewed because the date a rape is reported doesn't necessarily correspond to when it occurred. The statute of limitations is open on rape, so a person can report the crime any time, Stroer said.
According to a report by the National District Attorneys Association, "Victim Responses to Sexual Assault," women often don't report sexual victimization right away for a variety of reasons.
The report also states that most assailants are known to the victim. That fact explains why rapes often go unreported, Police Chief Ken Burton said.
“Most of the time (the victim) know(s) who the suspect is, and usually there is alcohol involved,” Burton said. “I would hope that they would be willing to report (rapes). It is a crime that occurs a lot of times in secret, and the police never know about it.”
While reported crimes decreased, the number of crimes "cleared" — or solved — also decreased. In 2008, 32 percent of all crime was cleared, and that has decreased steadily each year, according to the Uniform Crime Reports. Twenty-four percent of all crime was cleared in 2012.
“A lot of the crimes that are related to narcotics activity, people are hesitant to report it,” Burton said. “Some of the shootings, people know who are shooting at them but they’re not telling us. When we don’t get the information from them, it makes it far more difficult to solve.”
In addition to the lack of cooperation from witnesses, Burton and Stroer attributed the lower clearance rates with staff shortages.
Stroer said several detectives retired in 2012, and those positions couldn't be replaced. Detectives were, at times, forced to return to street and traffic patrol due to a shortage of staff, Burton said.
The report does not include incidents of shots fired, a crime in which a gun is fired but no one is injured, Stroer said.
Burton said the crime data won't prompt any changes as the department is given weekly data by its crime analyst, which allows them to detect trends.
“(The Uniform Crime Report) is valuable data but it’s not a very good tool for targeting crime because it’s pretty stale data; it’s a few months old,” Burton said.
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