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Major Crimes Down in Bloomington Despite Increased Homicides

Breanna Grow
Bloomington Police Chief clay Wheeler, center, gives council members an overview of major crime statistics for 2018.

Bloomington Police Chief Clay Wheeler said major crimes dropped 9 percent from 2017 to 2018, even as the city saw a sharp increase in homicides.

Of the eight categories of criminal activity included in annual report Wheeler presented to the city council Monday night, Bloomington saw 147 fewer reported incidents in 2018. That’s 200 fewer incidents compared to the five-year average.  

Bloomington witnessed nine homicides last year, up from just three in 2017. Not counting those incidents, the number of shootings dropped from 24 to 15, Wheeler said.

Wheeler noted that no reduction in crime can lessen the traumatic impact of last year’s activity on the community.

“Nothing I can say or will say diminishes the loss felt by family and friends," he said.

Wheeler spoke even as his department responded to another report of shots fired, this time just a half-mile from City Hall at West Mill and South Oak streets Monday night.

Aside from homicides, motor vehicle thefts were the only major crime to increase in 2018. Wheeler said the the uptick follows a years-long trend as juvenile offenders continue to steal cars for temporary transportation.

He said even one repeat offender can send the number surging.

“It’s not unusual when we catch violators doing this type of crime that they’re responsible for a large percentage of those crimes over the year.”

Overall, violent crimes—homicide, criminal sexual assaults, robbery and aggravated battery—dropped by 1 percent from 2017.

A series of several armed robberies between December 2018 and January 2019 did not push the city past the 45 incidents recorded in 2017; rather, there were eight fewer robberies last year, Wheeler said.

Wheeler noted that while criminal sexual assaults dropped from 73 to 68 in 2018, that’s still above the 5-year average of 60 incidents.

Wheeler said he believes the number remains higher-than-average because of increased efforts to ensure criminal sexual assaults are reported.

“Historically it’s one of the most underreported crimes,” he added.

Wheeler attributed the overall drop in major crimes to new and ongoing BPD efforts.

“Our officers stay in tune with the community. We ask them to go try to look for the root causes of problems, especially in areas where we have repeat calls for service,” he said.

The department also expanded the use of public safety cameras to both solve and deter crime.

Wheeler said the department’s engagement with residents on social media continues to climb, with users providing leads to help solve crimes quickly.

“It’s a very important aspect of our job now,” Wheeler said, explaining social media has become the primary space where police interact with residents.

The department plans to add Nextdoor, a private neighborhood-based social app, to its toolbox this year.

They’ll also expand prosocial efforts, “providing an example of someone who cares about others” to the community through one-on-one interactions, public service and other activities. “If this can help someone learn to not only value their life but the lives of others, our community will be better for it,” Wheeler said.

Other goals for the department in the coming year include sustained focus on reducing violent street-level gun and gang activity; increased de-escalation training for officers; and continued training to help officers assist those experiencing a mental health crisis.

Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner shares his reaction to the crime stats:

You can also listen to the full Sound Ideas interview:

GLT's full interview with Renner.

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Breanna Grow is a correspondent for GLT. She joined the station in September 2018.