The Rock Hill Police Department has seen much success in the last year, including drops in violent crime and property crime, but still faces challenges going into the next year, Chief John Gregory said Thursday night during a community forum.
The forum was part of the department's effort to both inform the public and encourage their participation to help lower crime rates.
In his presentation, Gregory discussed some of his department's successes, including the addition of 12 patrol officers and two investigators for white-collar crime and child/elder abuse crimes, a decrease in holiday season auto break-ins and the progress with the COMPSTAT program, which allows officers to track crime in particular areas.
The department has also taken a zero-tolerance policy toward areas where multiple complaints are received.
"When the police come the next time, we know the story," he said. "We take action."
Gregory specifically focused on the department's Weed & Seed initiative. The five-year initiative targeted five neighborhoods - Flint Hill, Hagins-Fewell, South Central, Sunset Park and Crawford Road - based on crime rates and focused on "weeding out" the crime in those neighborhoods.
The neighborhoods were selected because an analysis revealed they made up at least 27 percent of violent or serious crimes in the city.
"If the five neighborhoods can stimulate 27 percent of the crime in the city, that's probably the place to start," Gregory said. "If you can make headway there, you've made the entire city better."
Preliminary figures show violent crime is down 8 percent in the selected neighborhoods. Property crime is down 11 percent, and there has been a 62.5 percent reduction in calls for service.
These statistics are in addition to the overall drop in the city's crime, with 2010 having the lowest crime rate in 10 years, a fact Gregory called "phenomenal."
It's also one he hopes will be a continuing trend, despite the economic times, something he said helps fuel crime. He predicted seeing fuel-related crimes in the next year.
"Because of the rate of unemployment being so accelerated by the economy, we do have situations where people commit serious crimes, felonies, for the first time in their life because of economic necessity," he said. "That's their excuse, but there is no excuse."
Gregory highlighted three driving factors of crime in Rock Hill: annexation, commercial development and residential development.
He pointed to the late 1990s when part of the Rock Hill Galleria was redesigned to include access to Walmart. At the time, the department had a bike patrol.
"As that mall developed into Walmart, you had a different pattern of activity, traffic activity, crime activity," he said. "People asked if we were keeping the bike patrol. We can't afford to do that. The city has grown since that time. We have outgrown that strategy."
The department has seen an increase in copper and metal thefts. In 2004, the words "copper" or "metal" were used in incident reports 58 times; by last year, it had tripled to 206.
Stealing from cars is one of the easiest crimes and one of the most popular, he said.
"If you take all of our valuables out of plain sight, place those valuables in the trunk and lock your doors, most likely you won't have anyone break into your car," Gregory said. "They will find the car that did not do that, and they will break into that one."
The department faces some challenges internally, specifically a budget that will be the same as the previous fiscal year, even with rising fuel costs. Gregory mentioned they need more space in the Law Center and would like to decrease the size of patrol zones so officers aren't spread so thinly.
Right now, the department has six patrol zones, but he would like to see eight.
"We do the best we can with what we have," he said, "and we strategically place our people in the best time and place and give them a chance to be in areas we think where the next wave of crime will occur."
Gregory opened the floor to some residents, who expressed concerns over issues such as installing a downtown street light and what the department is doing to alleviate gang violence.
One man asked what the public can do to help.
"We need the community to report and be vigilant," Gregory said. "... I would just like to see people get more involved. Report suspicious behavior. When you see something, get involved and let us know what occurred."