Provo crime down 14 percent as officers police ‘smarter, not harder’

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Crimes like homicide, rape and robbery in Provo have dipped 14 percent in two years, according to Provo Police. These crimes are also known as Part I crimes. These part 1 crimes decreased nationally by 4.6 percent in 2014, and new data from FBI Uniform Crime Reports suggests crime in America is on the decline overall.

Part I crimes decreased a total of 14 percent over the past two years in Provo. (Jessica Olsen)

Acting Provo Police Capt. Todd Grossgebauer said Provo Chief of Police John King’s tactics have been critical in decreasing Part I crime. King started as chief of police in 2013, bringing tactics and policies from his 30-year law enforcement career in Maryland.

“I attribute the decrease to the partnerships we’ve created in the community,” Grossgebauer said. “We encourage community support, we meet with the neighborhoods and the neighborhood chairs. Our goal is to be proactive and preventative.”

One of King’s policies involved dividing the city into four parts with 34 subsections. Officers are assigned to specific parts, or beats, and they focus on familiarizing themselves with the people there and understanding crime trends in the area.

The policy’s intent is to help officers become more invested in these areas of the community and to create a smarter, more adaptable police force that could react quickly to area-specific crime.

“You get to know your area,” said BYU police Lt. Arnold Lemmon. “It’s more ownership.”

What is most surprising is that this drop in violent crime seems to be happening even as police officer employment decreases. On Jan. 5, the Universe reported the number of applicants for law enforcement jobs in Provo and Salt Lake in 2015 was half as many as in 2012; these numbers mirrored national trends. A weakened economy and a negative perception of law enforcement in the media have been cited as causes for this shortage.

Grossgebauer said even with less officers, the Provo police department is responding ably to crime in the area, “policing smarter, not harder.”

A Provo police officer pulls pulls over a vehicle over on Center St. The Provo Police Department attributed the 14 percent decrease in Part 1 crimes to the hard work and dedication of members police officers and community members. (Provo Police Department)

Community policing officers watch for day-to-day patterns, and a crime analyst looks at the trends to identify the methods of operation for the crimes. This helps the police department make strategic decisions about the best ways to help in certain situations.

“Do we increase enforcement?” Grossgebauer asked. “Does it involve community education? Does it involve public awareness? Putting that information out in a timely manner is critical. All of those things are why you see a (crime) reduction.”

Part of the answer may lie in less controllable factors. Provo has customarily enjoyed lower crime rates than other college towns, according to a 2010 Universe article about BYU crime. It ranked lowest in murder, rape, robbery and motor vehicle theft when compared to University of Utah and a variety of comparatively sized universities throughout the U.S.

“Provo, traditionally, has been one of the safest cities for its size,” Lemmon said. “It’s the culture.”

Lemmon also explained that crimes plaguing other university cities, like drug and alcohol arrests, are virtually nonexistent in Provo. However, he cautions that these numbers may not be here to stay.

“I’ve been in this business 41 years,” Lemmon said. “It ebbs and flows.”

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