Although burglaries and stolen vehicles continue to be a problem in some East Valley communities, on the whole major crimes fell last year, crime statistics indicate.
FBI statistics show homicides rose last year nationally, but there was a 20 percent decrease in the East Valley. The number of robberies and aggravated assaults also fell approximately 20 percent.
There were 33 homicides in Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa and Tempe last year compared to 41 in 2002.
Although law enforcement officials note it’s difficult to predict and therefore prevent crimes against people, they attribute the decrease in property crimes to a variety of proactive programs implemented in their cities.
Mesa, Chandler and Tempe police departments all have "bait" vehicles with tracking devices, cameras and remote switches that allow them to monitor and catch car thieves.
Midway through last year, Tempe officers returned to the practice of taking vehicle theft reports in person, said Chief Ralph Tranter. The number of reports fell by 500.
This year, one of the department’s goals will be to reduce burglaries, which increased 3 percent last year, Tranter said. A public awareness campaign is being launched and patrol officers are now more sensitive about various trends and patterns.
Dave Zielonka, assistant Mesa police chief, said a new program helped reduce residential burglaries by 23 percent in 2003 and business burglaries by 18 percent.
Although homicides, sexual assaults and car thefts increased in Chandler last year, Sgt. Mark Franzen said the population increased 5.6 percent, but the number of crimes reported overall fell 7.4 percent.
Members of the department’s various bureaus regularly meet to pinpoint problems areas so resources can be re-allocated accordingly, Franzen said.
That approach, along with increased help from residents, is paying off.
"This is the first year in five years that we’ve reduced the amount of actual crimes and we feel that shows our community policing efforts are finally paying off," Franzen said.
Gilbert saw decreases in most crime categories, but saw a 17 percent increase in burglaries and a 23 percent rise in motor vehicle thefts.
"To me, those numbers are indicative of the growth out here and the manpower shortages we have," said Gilbert Lt. Don Parks.