January 14, 2012
LIMA — When Huntington National Bank in Kalida was robbed last year, officers had no idea who did it other than the image of a man captured on a security camera.Turns out that was all they needed. Putnam County Sheriff investigators turned the image over to local media, which ran a photo, and the robber was identified as 24-year-old Korrey R. Kemp, of Van Wert. Kemp was arrested days later after police found him hiding in a Fort Wayne, Ind., motel room. He is serving a five-year prison sentence for robbery. Sheriff Jim Beutler touts Kemp's arrest as a shining example of how technology has helped police in recent years solve crime. It's also that latest tool that may just be helping lower crime numbers across the region. “If it hadn't been for that video, we would not have been able to identify that guy,” Beutler said.Agencies in Allen, Auglaize and Putnam counties saw declines in crime in the last year. While some categories were up in theft crimes, it wasn't at an alarming rate. Surveillance camerasLima police Chief Kevin Martin said cameras at businesses are becoming good crime-fighting tools. “Today, some of these camera systems will give you incredibly good photos of the perpetrators,” Martin said.Allen County Sheriff Sam Crish said the technology is a lot better than it was just a decade or two ago.“The VCR tape was always fuzzy. Today, with digital, we have equipment we can zoom in and zoom out,” he said. That includes zooming in on someone's face or the license plate of a suspect's car to obtain a photo that could help solve a crime, he said.Police often turn the photos over to the media to run in the newspaper, on websites and television asking the public for help in identifying the person. Local police have used that successfully.Wapakoneta police Chief Russ Hunlock said pictures and video have been invaluable in solving crimes and backing police statements. “The old adage is a picture is worth a thousand words, and that's correct,” he said.Just last year, after someone twice broke into the Beer & Wine Depot, in Wapakoneta, video led to the capture of Jacob Day after police sought the public's help in identifying the man in the video, Hunlock said. When police caught up to the 22-year-old Day, it was clear he was the same man in the video, Hunlock said. “The evidentiary value of it is beyond putting a price tag on it. When someone is on film, it's really difficult to dispute what the person did,” Hunlock said.Even cameras in police cruisers can show what happened or what was said, Hunlock said.Crish never has heard anyone say a camera made him think twice about committing a crime — not that he routinely asks that question — but he's sure cameras help officers catch criminals.Technology is better and the cost to equip a business with a surveillance system is a lot less expensive than it was a decade ago, Martin said. Systems can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands, Beutler said.“It just depends on how good you want it,” Beutler said. As the cost has come down, more businesses have started to use surveillance cameras not just to catch a crime in progress but also to serve as a deterrent, Martin said. But it's not just businesses that are installing surveillance cameras. Many homeowners are, too. Systems allow people to see live shots of their home across the Internet or their cell phone, Crish said. Ottawa police Chief Rich Knowlton said his officers often consult with local businesses to lend advice on where to install cameras or make suggestions on a system. Beutler recommends installing multiple cameras to catch various angles. Sometimes a criminal may turn away from one camera and have his face caught by another. And cameras are everywhere.Beutler credited a camera with helping solve a string of home burglaries in Columbus Grove. While the homeowners did not have cameras that captured the suspects' image, investigators had a description of the getaway car and that was enough to check video of cars passing by a local gas station, Beutler said.As luck would have it, the video captured the vehicle near the time of a burglary and investigators were able to identify the vehicle and find the two men, he said. Two months ago, Allen County officers arrested a man and woman, Colt Morris, 24, and Ashley Woten, 24, in connection with two recent gas station robberies. Video from one of the robberies was released, which led to the arrests, Crish said. Nearly two years ago, Shawnee Township police arrested Benny Woolwine after a victim took a picture of him fleeing the scene of a break-in. Woolwine later was identified as a suspect in numerous break-ins and home robberies in several counties and has been sent to prison. Overall crime numbersLima saw one murder last year, that of 4-year-old Linda Jackson at the hands of her mentally ill sister. The number was the lowest in 33 years, the last time the city recorded only one murder. Going back to 1947, as far back as Lima police have records saved, the city has never recorded zero murders. While a decline in homicides is good news, Martin has trouble recognizing it.“One homicide is one homicide too many,” he said. Lima saw the biggest increase in the number or rapes: up by 14, or 42 percent, in 2011 compared to the previous years. Martin said rapes are hard to prevent and most aren't the stranger rapes people think of when they hear the word rape. Rapes often are by someone who knows the victim such as a family member and many involve children, he said. There were slight increases in robberies, up 9 percent. Martin attributes that to an increase in activity by juveniles, who committed a third of the robberies. He plans to target curfew laws this year to keep juveniles from committing crimes or becoming victims.“One of the things we will be doing in 2012 is focusing on that as a priority,” he said. Thefts were up 2 percent which Martin said goes hand and hand with the drug trade. People steal to support their habit.Martin was surprised to see the number of motor vehicle thefts increasing. In recent years, that category has slowly declined, something Martin said was expected due to more and more cars being equipped with anti-theft systems. “That is one I would expected to see a decline,” Martin said. “Motor vehicle theft surprised me.”Comparing Lima's 2011 numbers to an average over the past 17 years when categories were similar, every category except assaults was well under the average. The FBI, however, changed reporting requirements a few years ago to require domestic violence incidents to be included, spiking numbers in that category. The Allen County Sheriff's Office saw a decline in homicides, rapes and robberies, while assaults, thefts and motor vehicle thefts increased. Crish blamed it on the economy but added the numbers were not up by a lot.“Overall, there's not a big difference from 2010 to 2011,” he said. A comparison of the crime numbers at the Sheriff's Office showed six of the seven categories included fewer crimes in 2011 than the average over the past 11 years when categories were comparable. The only category up was motor vehicle theft by one car. The county recorded 45 stolen cars in 2011, according to data. Crish was pleased to see numbers in three of the four violent crime categories on the decline again. Only assaults were slightly up. He credits concealed carry with helping to lower the violent crime numbers again, which mirrors a national trend which has seen violent crime decline as states approve concealed carry licensing. “It's part of the reason it's down,” he said. “Our concealed carry numbers just keeping going up. We still have a number of people coming in to get their license.”Concealed carry licenses are only offered to people who pass a strict criminal background check, have no history of mental illness, complete training and pass tests. The program allows law-abiding citizens to carry guns, which Crish said makes criminals think twice about robbing someone.“If you're going to rob the store, you don't know who is in that store and who may have a weapon,” he said. FBI statistics show violent crime, such as murder, rape and assaults, has declined in the U.S. since 2007 and property crimes have been on the decline since 2002.