Rock Hill Police Chief Chris Watts promoted some of his department’s newest initiatives and improvements on Tuesday night during a community law enforcement forum.
Watts was chosen as the city’s police chief nearly one year ago when John Gregory retired after holding the position for nine years.
On Tuesday, Watts said his tasks and duties have been “nonstop” as he has been at the helm of major changes in the department.
Top among those duties have been adding a new violent crimes unit to the department’s investigative division, helping oversee the city’s $1.7 million expansion to the existing court and law enforcement offices on Black Street and adding more personnel to expand Rock Hill’s police zones from six to nine.
Construction work on the 8,500-square-foot department and court expansion is expected to be complete in April 2014.
Watts has implemented 12-hour shifts for officers at the department – something he says officers like because they now have three-day weekends twice a month. Before, officers were working 10-hour shifts and often working multiple weekends in a row.
Using nine police patrol zones instead of six, he said, should help Rock Hill lower its emergency call response times and allow officers to get to know their beats better.
The department’s coverage area is the same but each zone is smaller now that the department has divided the city into nine police beats, instead of six.
The new violent crimes investigative unit identifies the top five or 10 people committing the most violent offenses in Rock Hill, Watts said.
Watts has plans to expand an online service being used by local hotel owners to track criminal activity and partner with law enforcement to curb crime.
The website – called Rock Hill-York County Connect – is used by the York County Sheriff’s Office, Rock Hill Police and some businesses.
Since starting it in March 2013, Watts says the website has improved communication between hotel owners and police.
He’s looking to set up a similar service for Rock Hill apartment complex managers or owners to use.
The online service, he said, is particularly useful for tracking and preventing crimes such as car break-ins and thefts.
The department is beefing up its communication efforts in other ways, Watts said, citing the department’s new Twitter and Facebook social media pages and its continued use of YouTube to post videos, such as surveillance footage from crime scenes to help identify suspects.
The department is also utilizing a smartphone app to provide the public with information about local law enforcement efforts and give people a new way to track crime in their neighborhoods.
The point of any new initiative, Watts said, is to minimize crime and improve quality of life for Rock Hill residents and visitors to the city.
On Tuesday night, he reported that violent crime in Rock Hill is trending downward.
Property crimes such as home break-ins, car thefts and shoplifting are also trending downward, with the exception of statistics showing a spike in 2011. Watts attributes that spike to the rise of copper prices. Police saw reports of metal thefts increase greatly, he said, in 2011 when criminals knew they could sell copper at a high price.
Contrary to what many say about a bad economy leading to higher crime, Watts said, Rock Hill Police and other police agencies across the nation did not see a stark increase in crime between 2007 and 2010.
Compared to 2012, Rock Hill has seen an increase in commercial property burglaries and car break-ins.
The jump in business break-ins, Watts said, was caused over the past two months when two out-of-town groups committed “fairly sophisticated burglaries” in Rock Hill. Most people involved in that spree of burglaries have been arrested, police said on Tuesday.
With two homicides so far this year, Rock Hill has seen fewer homicides than in 2012.
Homicides are not easily prevented, Watts said, because many tend to happen in personal relationships or are related to the drug trade. But, he said, his department is working to solve the problems that could lead to homicides.
Watts also reported positive results from Rock Hill’s “data-driven approach to crime and traffic safety,” or DDATCS – a partnership with the York County Sheriff’s Office and the state Highway Patrol.
In Rock Hill, officers target the Interstate 77 area near Cherry and Celanese roads under the DDATCS program.
Since starting the heightened patrols in February, police have seen an 11 percent decrease in traffic accidents in the area and a 38 percent decrease in robberies.