2020 Crime Data: Why the numbers only paint part of the picture in Sioux City policing
"2020 was an out-of-the-ordinary year."
Sioux City Police have released the crime statistics for the last year and just by looking at the data, there were some startling numbers.
One of the biggest increases between 2019 and 2020 was in murder and manslaughter, with six last year and only two the year prior. That's up 200%. But looking at property crime you see a drop; Burglary was down 25% and theft was down 16% compared to 2019. Overall there was a 15% decrease in property crimes.
"We try the best we can try to analyze our crime rates and see what they are related to, but there are so many factors that influence crime."
Sioux City Police Chief Rex Mueller walked me through the latest data.
"We can certainly make some guesses as to why this past year was different. People being home more may have influenced that, but at the same time, those are just speculation."
One of the harshest numbers is the 200% increase in murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, and the department says these violent crimes are a top priority for them.
"Unfortunately, most violent crime can't be predicted. So, the best thing that we can do as a department is identifying people in our community that show a propensity for violence and take a major offender approach is what we call, to locate those people who are involved in guns and drugs and escalating violence and try to get them before any of our community members are adversely affected by it," Chief Mueller said. "A lot of these we may never know how deep these issues go. I mean, are they drug-related, do they involve firearms? Certainly, drugs and firearms tend to go together."
But Chief Mueller says these numbers they released are only one piece of the puzzle.
"Looking at percentages kind of gives an inaccurate picture," Chief Mueller said as we discussed the data. "I think you have to look at the raw numbers themselves and these are obviously preliminary numbers, but they do give us an idea of what happened in Sioux City and certainly, violent crime was on the rise, but that is a nationwide trend."
Overall crime in Sioux City was down 10% from the year before and as a department, they use this data to see where they need to adjust.
"It starts with looking at the data and seeing where our issues are. Clearly, with property crimes going down, that's a positive, but crime has ebbs and flows, it has ups and downs," Mueller said. "The Sioux City crime rate has been relatively steady. In fact, over the past five years, it's a relatively steady rate."
The department uses this data to help find changes in policing for the new year.
"As hard as the police department works, we only have so much of an impact on the crime rate. That doesn't mean that we aren't going to try and impact it as much as possible, but there are so many other factors that come into it." These crime statistics only paint a part of the overall picture. Chief Mueller says there is another key element that played a big part in 2020: personal connections.
"One of the things that we lost in 2020 because of the lack of personal contact is going out in the community and help to make our citizens a hard target for crime," he said about last year, "I mean, crime prevention initiatives. There was less interaction with the people that we serve and part of that interaction is showing them how to avoid being a victim of crime."
Because of COVID-19, officers weren't able to interact with the community they serve as they had in years past which plays a big part in crime prevention.
"When you lose those connections, those are something that we are really going to try and rebuild as we get out of the pandemic."
These officers that serve the Sioux City community, are part of it, too, living and working alongside the people they vow to serve and protect.
"We are the citizens. The police officers live in this community, they are part of the community and when you can't spend as much time getting that positive interaction that we would do with community policing efforts, you kind of lose touch and that is something that we all miss."
A big part of crime prevention is those relationships with the people that live and work in Sioux City, and fixing that broken link created by the pandemic in 2020 is a top priority.
"For us as a department, part of our initiative going forward is going to be to reengage with the people that we serve, to assure them that we are doing everything that we can to suppress and prevent crime and respond to crime," Mueller said. "But also, just build up those personal relationships because I think for all of us, not just the police and the community, those personal relationships have taken a hit with the pandemic."
"Any crime prevention or suppression efforts that we make are meaningless unless we have our citizens working with us. So, when we are all working together on this, we make real progress."
Chief Mueller says Sioux City actually has a pretty low crime rate "and that speaks more about the composition of our community, the people we have in our community and what great people we have in this community," he said. "But that doesn't mean we can't look at this information and see where we could be better using the resources that we do have to prevent, combat crime and respond to crime."
For the new year, the department hopes to get back to community policing and rebuilding those relationships with the citizens they serve.
I live in this community. I live in Sioux City, I've always lived in Sioux City."This is a great and safe community," Mueller said as a message to Sioux Citians. "What I would say is, don't be deterred by the numbers. Sioux City is an incredible community. We've been making a lot of great strides."
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