Crime index in 2006 was 78.4, higher than all other cities in SW Kansas, in 2008 had dropped to 35.0
By JESSICA CRAWFORD
• Daily Leader
In 2006, Liberal’s crime rate reached a dangerously high level. When Liberal Police Chief Al Sill took over the lead of the LPD, he knew it was time for changes. And his changes have yielded positive results.
Before Sill could give the crime rate numbers for Liberal, he first explained just how the statistics are, in fact, generated.
“In the ’20s, the International Association of Chiefs of Police created the Uniform Crime Report,” Sill said. “The FBI is the clearing house for that and each state has their own record tracking system. Ours is KIBRS, which is Kansas Incident Based Reporting System. So, every incident that we generate, we give to KIBRS, which KBI houses that. Then our state statistics in turn go to NIBRS which is the National Incident Based Reporting System. It is turned into the Uniform Crime Report. That way, the nation can keep statistics on our crime rate.
“The reason it is done that way is each state has different types of crimes,” he explained. “A crime that we have in Kansas may not be the same statute or written the same as a crime that occurs in Oklahoma or any other state. So, in order to get all those statistics to marry up to one another, we have to put them into a Uniform Crime Report. It is a lot more complicated than a person might understand or believe because every crime we have has to fit into certain codes. We have state statutes, but then when we submit everything to KIBRS – it is coded. Under the UCR reporting system, there are Part I and Part II crimes.
“Part I crimes are your more serious crimes like aggravated assault, forceable rape, murder, robbery – violent crimes against persons,” he continued. “There are also Part I property crimes which are arson, burglary, theft and vehicle theft. And that is how we do our in house statistics as well. We do our Part I crimes and Part II crimes. The reason Part I crimes are so important is because they are known as index crimes. The reason why they are index crimes is those are the crimes that are used to help determine your crime rate throughout your communities. The reason for that is those crimes are more actively reported than any other crimes. If you are a victim of an actual burglary or theft, you are more apt to report that because you have no other means to deal with it.
“But on the same hand too, Part II crimes are equally as important to communities because they are a problem within our community,” he added. “They are not as violent, but they are a big nuisance. Part II crimes are your lesser crimes. They are known as simple assault, curfew violations, loitering, embezzlement, forgery, counterfeiting, disorderly conduct, driving under the influence, drug offenses, fraud, gambling, liquor offenses, prostitution and things like that. You can easily see that a lot of these crimes are not reported. These really are hard to determine what your actual crime rate in your community is. But still, they plague every community. They are a burden and a nuisance. Communities track these crimes because it helps us to determine where our problem areas are.”
First and foremost, the LPD’s primary goal is to “reduce crime and fear of crime in our city.” The latter, Sill said, is as important as the former due to quality of life issues.
“This will always be our number one goal,” he said. “The fear of crime is just as important as the actual numbers of crime because we want people to feel safe, as well as be safe. The feeling of comfort allows them to live in Liberal.
“The people I talked to, and myself included, have no problem going anywhere in Liberal at night or any other time,” he said. “I really don’t have a problem with it. The reason for that is the Part I crimes, we don’t have many of these crimes going on. That is a big concern. Yes, we have burglaries and we have thefts, we don’t have a lot of the other violent person crimes. That helps us with our goal here as far as the fear of crime.”
When calculating index crimes, in 2006, Liberal was at 78.4. That number, Sill said, is based on per 1,000 people within the population. That number did not sit well with Sill and the rest of the department.
“We were higher than everybody, significantly, in 2006 – and that made headline news,” Sill said. “We were second highest in the state, only to Wyandotte County.”
In 2007, Sill began to implement changes within the department that drastically reduced Liberal’s crime rate.
“The whole philosophy has shifted, we do things differently now,” Sill said. “The culture of the agency has shifted, our philosophies and our goals. We actually monitor things now. There used to be an old practice of coming in each and every day and we did what we needed to do that day to take care of the problems at hand. That was not a good practice. What we were really failing to do is look at trends, patterns and areas of town with problems and try to develop some plans to correct those problems. Instead what we were doing was just reacting to those problems.”
The department’s plan worked, and the numbers offered the proof.
“In 2006, our crime index was 78.4,” Sill said. “Then when we made the shift in 2007 – we dropped considerably from 78.4 to 56.6. That was a big drop, but we are still higher than Garden, Dodge and the state. In 2008, we were finally lower than Garden, Dodge and the state. To us, that was a huge, huge improvement. In 2008, we were at 35.0. The only one lower than us was Hays at 32.6.
“The 2009 state statistics are not in yet, so we go to our in-house statistics and kind of look at what we did in 2009,” Sill explained. “These will not be exact to what the state statistics are because they compile those there.”
The statistics for 2010 are looking good as well, Sill said. He said the rate will never again drop as significantly as it did from 2006 to 2008, however, he is happy with the progress the department has made.
“We are never going to get down to zero, although that is a goal,” he said. “There are going to be spikes and there are going to be fluctuations. What we want to do is not get back to the point we were at in 2006.”
With a full staff of officers patrolling the streets of Liberal, Sill said, things are definitely looking up. He fully believes the main goal of the department is currently being fulfilled in Liberal – crime has been reduced and the city’s citizens feel safe.