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The Suburbanite
  • Crime up in Canton: Drugs, gangs, homeless, economy to blame

  • City officials hope the jail opening up bed space will keep more criminals behind bars as crime is on the rise. But will that alone work?

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  • Crime is rising in the city, and a majority of the people committing it are repeat offenders, homeless, in need of mental help or are addicted to drugs.
    Violent crime increased 24 percent from 2010 to 2011, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program. Property crime went up 15 percent.
    And this year, through Oct. 31, Canton police already have seen more homicide, rape and car theft than in all of 2011.
    City police already have handled three more reports of rape than last year, and while robbery, burglary and larceny appear to be on the decline, vehicle theft and arson already are higher than last year — even before November and December crime reports can be counted, according to statistics provided by Canton Police Capt. Jack Angelo, internal affairs and administrative division commander.
    In 2011, 250 vehicle thefts were reported in Canton. This year, police have taken 362 reports — a nearly 70 percent increase.
    In 2011, arsons numbered 25. By Oct. 31 of this year, there were 41 — a 60 percent increase.
    And homicides? Two people were victims in 2010 and 16 were killed in 2011. (Information has been corrected to fix an error. See top correction at end of story. Dec. 10) This year? Ten, as of Dec. 1.
    “Nationally, crime’s up everywhere. It’s not just here,” Angelo said.
    CRIME & THE ECONOMY
    Crime statisticians and nonprofit crime research groups typically tend to blame the economy when crime rises.
    “During periods of economic stress, the incidence of robbery may double, and homicide and motor vehicle theft also increase,” according to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report on its website at www.unocd.org. The report gleaned data from police in 15 countries with regard to robbery, homicide and car theft.
    “In eight of 11 countries undergoing economic upheavals, a link between economic factors and crime could clearly be established,” the report said.
    A paper published by the private, nonprofit research organization National Bureau of Economic Research at www.nber.org provides a reason for increased crime — child mistreatment “roughly doubles the probability” that a person will engage in multiple types of crime. Another paper published by the organization states that “fewer guns mean fewer gun homicides.  ... The largest declines occur in areas with the largest reductions in firearm ownership.”
    Up to Sept. 30 of this year, 1,002 concealed carry permits were issued to Stark County residents seeking to legally carry a gun, according to Chief Deputy Rick Perez of the Stark County Sheriff’s Department.
    Although that number only includes the first three quarters of 2012, more gun permits had been issued in those nine months than in all of 2011 and 2010. In 2011, 957 permits were issued and in 2010, 942 were issued, Perez said.
    But perhaps the biggest jump came in 2009 when 1,140 were issued. The year before — in 2008 — only 719 permits had been issued, he said.
    Page 2 of 4 - VACANCIES
    Locally, not all homeowners pay their property taxes, further aggravating the economic condition.
    Nearly 18 percent of the city’s 22,824 single-family houses are vacant, officials say, and many owners are difficult if not impossible to track down.
    Jason Frost, chief deputy of real estate for the Stark County Auditor's Office, said that while his office does not track residency, the auditor's office records show Canton has 22,824 single-family houses.
    Of those houses, 143 are condemned properties, 4,054 are vacant houses and 3,311 are vacant lots, according to figures from the county treasurer's and auditor's offices.
    Stark County Treasurer Alexander A. Zumbar said that the actual number could be even higher.
    Police contend that crime would go down if those vacant homes vanish. Police Chief Bruce Lawver said that these vacant houses typically attract vagrants and crime.
    Social workers say the homeless are sometimes drawn to them.
    Numbers from the Stark County Homeless Services Collaborative show 1,257 homeless, up 17 percent from the previous year.
    Some start fires just trying to keep warm in a vacant house without electricity or gas heat. Others steal, salvaging everything from aluminum siding to the copper pipe and water heater.
    Canton Fire Division Chief John Whitlatch has said that the number of arson fires would go down if the number of vacant houses could be eliminated.
    HOMELESS TO JAIL
    When they’re caught, they go to jail, where either they or many of their fellow inmates are found to have been suffering from mental illness.
    Locally, Sheriff-elect Michael McDonald estimated in October 2011 that roughly 30 percent of the Stark jail population suffer from mental illness. The U.S. Department of Justice in 2006 reported that 64 percent of county jail inmates in general suffer from mental problems and that 24 percent of them “met the criteria for a psychotic disorder.”
    “Some of these folks can be extremely violent and our officers have been injured by some of them this year,” McDonald said at the time. “We’ll be in constant communication with the mental health board.”
    More than 100 incidents of violence inside the jail were reported in 2011, leaving at least 10 deputies injured.
    Many prisoners have been to the county lockup so many times, corrections officers know them on a first-name basis.
    “Drug abuse is the biggest part of it all,” McDonald said Nov. 30. “About 92 percent of the people I get in jail are substance abusers and they’re going to do whatever they can do to get those drugs. Some of them have up to a $1,000-a-day drug habit, and they’re going to do whatever they can do to get that money.”
    McDonald has said that three of every four people booked into the jail will return again on a new charge at some time in their lives. He listed the recidivism rate as that much like other jail populations nationwide, as high as 85 percent.
    Page 3 of 4 - DECLINING POPULATION, INCREASING CRIME
    While jailers say the recidivism rate has been pretty steady, Canton’s population declined nearly 10 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to the city’s own website at cantonohio.gov. According to google.com/publicdata, it’s declined even more. It is listed at 72,919 in July 2011, the website said.
    So if people are leaving the city, why is crime on the rise?
    “I think there are several factors that play into it,” said Canton Safety Director Thomas Ream. “The economy, the demographics of Canton and some of the changes that have occurred with the middle class flight to the suburbs ... ”
    Ream said the “social fabric” of the community began to change when youth started joining gangs as the traditional family structure devolved.
    “All these things played a role at a time when the economy took a big turn and we lost some of the funding we previously had,” Ream said.
    Less money means fewer cops on the street.
    Then, Ream said, “We saw a direct correlation when they closed (40-percent of the) (Information has been corrected to fix an error. See correction at end of story. 4;15 p.m. Dec. 10.) beds at the county jail due to funding and the loss of revenue streams that they had to operate with. When that occurred, we saw that reflected in some of our crime stats.”
    He and Lawver have blamed the reduction of available bed space at the jail, beds not made available due to county budget cuts that left a reduced staff limiting their ability to safely guard inmates housed there.
    But McDonald, who oversees the jail maintained, “We were only letting the non-violent criminals go,” and only by the order of the court.
    “They’re released on bond. I don’t have any control over that.”
    JAIL OVERFLOW
    It’s not like the jail isn’t already overcrowded.
    “They’re right, we’ve had limited space for almost a year and a half,” McDonald said.
    The prisoner counts have been at about 440-450, he said. And the jail only has 501 beds.
    Will locking up another 40 or 50 inmates reduce the crime rate?
    Ream seems to think so.
    Ream said that when the bed space at the jail increases, “some of problems (will) take care of themselves with being able to target the proper people who are out here in our community committing crimes on a consistent basis.
    “Everybody feels the frustration of having no place to put these people on a short-term basis while the wheel of justice kind of turns for us. It takes a while for cases to work through the system to a conclusion. And when we’re able to keep some of our most active offenders off the streets and away from our community, it impacts our crime rate.”
    Page 4 of 4 - WILL JAIL BEDS REDUCE CRIME?
    Police, prosecutors and other officials continue to seek federal funding and other methods aimed at reducing crime, of course.
    Zumbar secured in September a $2 million Moving Ohio Forward Demolition Grant to raze vacant houses.
    And McDonald, who takes over as Stark County’s new sheriff on Jan. 7, said he is hoping to get the jail back to capacity.
    “I’m going to get this jail opened immediately and we’ll see if that’s the real answer,” he said.
    The Brookings Institution doesn’t think so.
    “Crime could actually be reduced if the savings were put to use in strengthening other criminal justice programs and implementing other reforms,” according to a brief published online at www.brookings.edu for the private, non-profit organization that devotes itself to “independent research and innovative policy solutions.”
    The institution’s Policy Brief No. 185 recommends hiring more police officers and threatening those on probation with “compulsory schooling.” The brief also recommends that instead of pouring so much into job creation and traditional training for convicts, “More effective rehabilitation (and prevention) programs seek to develop non-academic (“social-cognitive”) skills like self-control, planning, and empathy.”
    CORRECTION: Canton had two homicides in 2010 and 16 in 2011. The number for 2011 was wrong when this story was first published Sunday.
    CORRECTION: The number of inmates housed at the Stark County Jail was cut in 2010-11 from 500 to 300, a 40-percent reduction. The size of the cut was wrong when this story was first published Sunday.
     
     

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