The Westside Marauders and Crime in Ann Arbor
This post has been edited and augmented; the original version was published September 9, 2009 and this edited version is published September 11, 2009.
It had to happen – our nice little safe neighborhood finally became the target for crime. I live in the Sunset-Brooks area and for years have examined the Ann Arbor Observer monthly crime map with more than a little touch of smugness, since our section of the map was always so nice and clean.
But a couple of weeks ago the phone calls started to let us know that people were experiencing break-ins. Someone is invading houses during the day, usually when they think no one is home. According to the police memo, this has been going on since May. Bad enough. Lock your doors. But apparently the efforts are becoming more strenuous. I heard today that last weekend the thieves used an axe to break down a door. This conjures up some pretty scary pictures.
As I have announced at the top of this post, we are meeting with the police on September 10 to learn what we can. But this brings up a broader question, one that I have seen discussed in email listserve groups for some months: how are the city budget cuts and reduction in force of our police affecting our safety?
Informal figures overheard at council meetings indicate that between 25-27 officers accepted early retirement packages from the city as part of the budget cuts. That is a reduction in force of approximately 20% (the force was about 138 officers). Will this mean we are more vulnerable to crime? Our mayor says we shouldn’t worry.
Here is his response to a constituent (widely published on a listserv; typos are as delivered):
I discussed your neighborhood this morning with the Police Chief and City Administrator. We went over the most recent crime numbers up to last Saturday and at this time there is no noticable up-tick in the statistacal data. However, our goal will be to insure that it does not get that far. Perhaps it seems unusual in the way that many of us think about Police Chiefs but our Chief still goes out on patrol himself and often rides along with patrol officers. He was recently in your neighborhood with one of the patrol officers who grew up there.
The Chief will be scheduling a meeting for early September so the PD can communicate directly with you and your neighbors.
In the meantime it would be helpful if you could be as specific as possible in communications with the PD. Calling 911 when you see something suspicous would really help. Someone trying to gain entry to a house they do not own is something that should be reported immediatly. Observing someone using drugs on the street, in a park, etc., would also qualify as a reason to call with specific information.
The number of officers on Patrol in our City is the same as it has been for several years and they will be paying special attention to your area. As I explained to someone else who wrote earlier today, crime statistics continue on a long term downward trend in our city but that does not mean certain areas don’t need special attention from time to time. The AAPD will do their best to keep your neighborhood safe.
Somehow the reassurances about “no uptick in statistical data” are not very satisfying. Do we have enough police officers to investigate and mitigate a crime wave in our little neighborhood? I’m looking forward to hearing what the officer has to tell us tomorrow. But I wish we would stop reducing our force at a time when the economy is down. I’d like to go back to our nice little crime-free zone as soon as possible.
UPDATE: A neighborhood meeting was held on September 10 at the Free Methodist Church on Newport. The sanctuary was overflowing (we counted over 100 people attending). Sergeant Matthew Lige spoke in general terms about how investigations are conducted. He advised homeowners who detect entry to call 911 immediately (or perhaps Detective Michael Lencioni, who has been assigned to the case) and avoid handling items in the house (including a door or window that might have been used to gain entry, or places where there might be footprints). He stressed the importance of keeping evidence intact (but joked that they rarely get “CSI moments” where a single piece of evidence solves the case). In describing cases of burglary in our neighborhood* since May, a very common pattern emerged and a single suspect seems to be involved in at least many of them. (*roughly the area circumscribed by Spring, Miller, Newport and Sunset) Several members of the audience related their own experience with this man. He is a young (18-25) African-American, thin, light-skinned, with a little bit of chin hair and sometimes wearing a gold cross. He typically rings doorbells, and if the door is answered, engages in conversation in which he asks for help in looking for a relative, sometimes named “Veronica”. (A couple of people have described trying very hard to help, even getting out the phone book.) One woman said that he was nicely dressed and spoke well, “very Ann Arbor”. He carries a bag or backpack, and although this was not said explicitly, seems to be on foot. Evidently if no one is home, he goes to the back of the house and enters either by cutting screens, breaking windows, climbing to the second story window, or in one case, using the homeowner’s own hatchet to break down a door. Jewelry, electronics, and other easy portable items are taken. At least 19 of these break-ins have been reported. (Annarbor.com’s story says 20.)
The sergeant asked people to watch the neighborhood and to call if “anyone suspicious” was seen. But he cautioned that the police can not take a person into custody just for looking suspicious. When asked about increased police patrols for the area, the sergeant shuffled his feet and said that “we are working as diligently as we can though we don’t have the numbers we had”.
About those numbers: in the last budget, police officers were offered an early retirement option. The city budgeted $6.7 million to pay for it. It was anticipated that about 12 sworn officers would take the offer. As a result of a flood of early retirements, at least double that number have left. (No official count has been released, to my knowledge.) I’ll note that my experience with the county sworn officers is that they are often young enough when they retire to take another similar job with another law enforcement agency.
SECOND UPDATE: Thanks to the FBI data picked up by A2Politico and then by AnnArbor.com, a full article on crime in Ann Arbor now reveals that we have had increased crime citywide as well as in our northwest neighborhood. A meeting with the police chief and the mayor is scheduled at Miller Manor The Community Center at 625 N. Main St. on Saturday, September 19, 9 a.m.Explore posts in the same categories: Neighborhoods, Uncategorized