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Rethinking Investigative Priorities.

A community beleaguered by crime faces a host of related problems. Businesses will not locate in or will move from crime-ridden cities, taking jobs and employees with them. Tourists will vacation elsewhere. Perhaps most important, residents will move to where they feel safe, and those who are left behind will live in fear.

While public officials may clamor for a reduction in high-profile crimes to decrease the overall crime rate, minor crimes increase the overall crime rate because they account for such a large portion of total crime. Although violent crimes prove traumatic for the victims and their families, such crimes occur much less often than other crimes, such as larceny. [1] In short, larcency [2] is a crime that hits close to home. Accordingly, the Savannah, Georgia, Police Department (SPD) targeted larcenies to reduce their occurrence, decrease the crime rate, and to improve the quality of life for all of its residents.

Reduce Larcenies, Reduce Crime

Violent crimes are serious offenses that require and deserve adequate attention and resources. Yet, both larcenies and murders have equal value when it comes to the crime rate because they each count as one incident. [3] Assigning high-profile, violent crime cases to the most skilled investigators while giving larcenies to inexperienced investigators or not emphasizing the importance of solving them not only adversely affects an agency's ability to influence the crime rate but also gives lesser priority to a crime problem that affects a majority of citizens.

Targeting Larcenies: The Reverse Solvability Factor

The SPD's strategy to target larcenies represents a multifaceted approach. First, the department gives each crime equal weight. For such crimes as homicides, witnesses, confessions, and other evidence can help investigators quickly close the case, giving it a high solvability factor. However, many larceny cases, no witnesses or evidence exits. Consequently, these incidents have a low solvability factor.

In most departments, high-profile crimes garner high priority, not only because of the gravity of the crime but also because of their high solvability. At the same time, larcenies and other property crimes get relegated to the SPD assigns each case equal weight, an approach it calls "reverse solvability." It may take even more skill to investigate crimes with traditionally low solvability and bring them to a successful closure. However, doing so can significantly decrease the crime rate.

Next, the department emphasizes thorough investigation by responding patrol officers, who attend 8 hours of in-service training to sharpen their interviewing skills. They learn to ask pertinent, probing questions and not just be report writers. Officers must understand that preliminary investigators all-inclusive report. A supplemental report, which includes the patrol suspects and other important information, goes to investigators for follow-up.

Above all, patrol officers must ensure the factual accuracy of their reports. In some cases, investigation may reveal that the incident could not have happened as claimed, and the property owner may be guilty of filing a false report. Equally important, officers should correctly classify each crime. If necessary, reclassification must be done honestly, not merely in an attempt to reduce a department's crime numbers. In the SPD, data entry personnel review all reports, and only the supervisor, a sergeant, can reclassify a crime. The check-list style of form the department uses for reporting crimes leaves little room for error, so reclassification rarely occurs.

Should patrol officers spend their valuable time taking theft reports? After all, many property owners only report thefts to the police so they can file an insurance claim. Consequently, agencies often take these reports over the telephone with little or no investigation. Although this method saves time and resources, it could lead to fraudulent reporting. Moreover, when officers take reports in person, it can go a long way to improving community relations. Agencies need to decide for themselves if the benefits of sending a patrol officer to investigate a property crime outweigh the costs. No matter what method they use to take reports, agencies should use computerized records management systems to help link incidents and solve additional cases.

A Collaborative Approach

The SPD realized that teamwork can mean the difference between success and failure for any program. Accordingly, the department has assigned property crimes investigators in two of the city's four precincts. This arrangement brought investigators and patrol officers closer together physically and, at the same time, improved communication between them. Working closely with patrol officers and precinct commanders helps investigators tackle the city's property crime problem.

In addition, SPD's leaders met with prosecutors and judges to ensure that individuals brought before the court for larceny crimes would receive the maximum sentence. Such punishment sends a strong message to those contemplating crimes of this type. Finally, crime prevention officers in each precinct work with residents to help prevent crime.

Conclusion

Every day the news paints a gruesome crime picture. Rape, murder, and other violent acts capture the public's attention. Yet, Americans remain more likely to become victims of theft than homicide. [4] By assigning equal resources to property crimes, which affect the crime rate just as much as other crimes while affecting more of the population, [5] police departments may reduce crime rates while helping their residents feel safe.

The Savannah Police Department has initiated such a strategy. While still committed to reducing violent crimes, the department also has begun to address the less serious, yet more prevalent occurrence, of larcenies. By attacking a problem that affects many of its citizens, the department has shown its concern not only for those few victims of violence but for the welfare of the entire community.

Lieutenant Glemboski commands a special operations unit for the Savannah, Georgia, Police Department.

Endnotes

(1.) U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Reporting, Crime in the United States 1998 (Washington DC: 1998), 66-67.

(2.) Larceny-theft is the unlawful taking, carrying, leading, or riding away of property from the possession or constructive possession, of another. It includes crimes, such as shoplifting, pocket-picking, purse snatching, thefts from motor vehicles, thefts of motor vehicle parts and accessories, and bicycle thefts, in which no use of force, violence, or fraud occurs. U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Reporting, Crime in the United States 1998 (Washington, DC: 1998), 43.

(3.) Eight crimes comprise the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting program's Part I, or Index, Crimes. These crimes--murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson--determine a community's crime rate.

(4.) Supra note 1.

(5.) Supra note 1.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Savannah, Georgia, Police Department
Author:Glemboski, Gary J.
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Geographic Code:1U5GA
Date:Aug 1, 2000
Words:1080
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