Palestine residents saw a lot more of those dreaded red lights in their rear-view mirrors last year – and they will see even more this year.
Local police officers pulled motorists over twice as often in 2018 as they did the year before, shows the Palestine Police Department's annual report.
Police officials say the increase is part of their efforts to increase the department's visibility, engage the community, and deter crime.
Police Chief Andy Harvey said motorists should expect even more stops this year.
With 3,050 traffic stops last year, the PPD more than doubled the 1,429 stops reported in 2017.
“I believe traffic stops are a strong deterrent to crime,” Harvey said. “We've only been fully staffed for about a month now. The visibility and community engagement the traffic stops offer work extremely well in deterring crime – particularly in specific neighborhoods.”
Dramatic increases in stops, however, don't mean Palestine's finest are issuing more citations. In fact, the number of citations held steady in 2018, with just over 2,180 in each of the past two years.
The reason: Far fewer motorists received multiple citations last year. Even warnings – written or electronic – decreased by more than 600 in 2018.
“We've put our focus on quality, community engaged policing,” PPD Asst Chief Mark Harcrow said.
Traffic stop and citation statistics, among many others, were part of PPD's recently released annual report.
Another trend in the report: More arrests.
The PPD received more than 21,500 calls for (911) service last year, a decrease of more than 450, than in 2017. Arrests, however, increased to 968, up 38 percent from 702, partly because of more trust between the community and police, as residents are more willing to give police information, Harcrow and Harvey said.
Last year, assault, criminal mischief, and drug offenses rose slightly. Conversely, all other crimes against persons or property, including burglary, theft, public intoxication, forgery, robbery, and auto theft, showed small declines.
“Crime is cyclical,” Harvey said. “It's hard to give a causation for crime. The fact that the community has become so much more involved, though, I'm sure has something to do with any reductions we experience.”
Last year, methamphetamine and illegal prescription medications, such as the opioids Hydrocodone and Oxycontin, and sedatives like Xanax, topped the list of illegal drugs seized at about 550 grams each.
More than 400 grams each of cocaine and the psychoactive drug Ecstasy were also seized. Marijuana and heroin rounded out the list, with fewer than 50 grams of heroin and 30 ounces of marijuana seized last year.
Police acknowledged marijuana is a far lower priority than most other drugs.
“Marijuana is still illegal, and we will arrest you for it ,” Harcrow said. “However, our resources are limited; we have to be smart in what we pursue.”
The department's goal, the report states, is to to reduce crime by at least five percent over the next year.
Among the pages of statistics, graphs, and pie charts typically seen in a city report, Harvey included a section devoted to community groups the department took a hand in last year.
“Part of our focus and philosophy is change and community engagement,” Harvey said. “We wanted people to have a more complete picture of the department and the city.”
Citizens on Patrol, the Chief's Clergy Coalition, Police Explorers, UNIDOS in Palestine, and the reinvigorated Neighborhood Crime Watch were all featured in the report, along with community programs and events, such as Blue Santa, the Law Enforcement Torch Run, and National Night.
“We gave copies to the Chamber of Commerce, the Realtor's Association, and to the Palestine Economic Development Corporation,” Harcrow said. “When people or businesses think about coming to Palestine, they always ask about crime. This will show them it's not only the police, but also the community, that takes responsibility in keeping crime down.”