The FBI's 2005 crime report released this week shows the first national increase in violent crime in more than four years. Some of the biggest increases are seen in Midwestern cities like Cleveland, where violent crime rose nearly seven percent. But some local safety experts say that's not an immediate cause for alarm. ideastream's Karen Schaefer reports.
After four years of nearly flat violent crime rates, the FBI's 2005 report shows murder and other violent crime rising dramatically in many Ohio cities. Murder rates were up 16% in Columbus, 23% in Cincinnati, and a whopping 38% in Cleveland. Some experts see that as a red flag. Lewis Katz teaches criminal law at Case Western Reserve University.
Lewis Katz: It's only one year, but we've seen this happen in the past and it seems to run in spurts. So I think it's a very bad sign.
Katz has been a law professor at Case for 40 years, but this year he's tossed his hat in the ring to vie as a Democratic candidate for the 14th Congressional district. Katz admits that while one year doesn't make a trend, he thinks a second year of higher violent crime rates should signal a call to action by local officials. At the heart of the problem, Katz believes, is Midwest states' failure to participate in the general economic growth of the rest of the country.
Lewis Katz: We have not, at least in this area, enjoyed that boom and any of the regeneration of the economy that is being seen in other parts of the country. And I think that that becomes an alarming trend and has all sorts of side effects, increase of crime being one.
But not everyone shares Katz' concerns. Jeff Mearns, dean of the Cleveland-Marshal School of Law at Cleveland State University, concurs that the economy often plays a major role in increasing crime. But he doesn't agree that a year or two's rise in crime rates should necessarily send public safety officials scrambling.
Jeff Mearns: It's a little like trying to judge the health of the economy stock market by looking at a fluctuation in the stock market in one week. While that's relevant information, we have to be careful about drawing too many conclusions.
Mearns says you need at least five years of data before you can judge whether or not a trend is developing. He adds it's unlikely that cuts to the Cleveland police force have anything to do with last year's crime hike.
Jeff Mearns: Cutting 250 law enforcement officers in 2004 would not likely cause a spike in 2005. The community just doesn't respond that dramatically or that quickly.
But Mearns does wonder what effect changes in federal funding of local law enforcement since 9-11 have had on the ability of police to be effective. Cleveland Safety Director Martin Flask admits that federal shifting of law enforcement funds to homeland security has gutted many of the programs like DARE and COPS that enabled his force to be proactive on crime.
Martin Flask: Things that the division of police historically have utilized to help expand and project the police officers into the neighborhoods of the city of Cleveland. So there's been a trade-off. Certainly we're getting some more Homeland Security dollars, but at the expense of some traditional programs that have been funded by the federal government in the past.
Flask, who spent 28 years on the Cleveland police force, says he's not alarmed by last year's crime spike. But he says he is paying closer attention to violent crime figures this year and doing everything he can to make sure they don't rise again. For 90.3 News, I'm Karen Schaefer.