Johnson City Press Wednesday, September 17, 2014

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Figures show Johnson City crime down

March 29th, 2014 9:15 pm by Becky Campbell

Figures show Johnson City crime down

JCPD Chief Mark Sirois - pictured in this file photo from June, 2012 - said, despite a rash of well-publicized crimes, statistics show crime in Johnson City has gone down since last year.

Johnson City Police Chief Mark Sirois is well aware of the crime, and its severity, in the downtown area of late, but he wants residents to know overall crime is down compared to last year and most violent crimes are not random.

“I think Johnson City is a safe place,” Sirois said Friday.

He’s confident about that despite three recent crimes in downtown that received a lot of media attention, including a deadly shooting last weekend.

“Those are consequential and they are tragic. I’m not diminishing that,” he said. “But overall, by and large, speaking on a comprehensive scale, it is safe.”

In fact, Sirois pointed out that overall crime is down, even in the downtown area, compared to this time last year.

From Jan. 1 to March 24, there was an approximately 14 percent decrease in crime. But looking at violent crimes — aggravated assault, simple assault, homicide, robbery and rape — there was a slight increase from 12 last year through March 24 to 15 in that same time frame this year.

The big decreases came in the number of thefts — from 18 to eight — and public intoxication, which dropped from 34 to 28.

Drug possession crimes went up by four, vandalism was down by two and weapon possession charges were up by three.

“We do recognize that, over a number of years, that particular area of town has been a challenge, from a crime standpoint,” Sirois said.

In an effort to answer that challenge, the city is utilizing a grant to pour resources in two specific areas — downtown and the Mountain Home area.

The $800,000 for the effort comes from a federal grant called the Targeted Community Crime Reduction Program. The TCCRP was implemented last year and allows the police department to pay overtime for additional officers in the two targeted areas.

The department has also worked with downtown business owners to create a downtown watch, much like neighborhood watch groups, he said. Efforts with downtown businesses, particularly bars, also include education about over-serving alcohol to patrons.

“The assaults, a lot of it is connected with alcohol. Downtown, there’s no doubt about it, we have a lot of alcohol. The later (in the evening) it gets, the more likely something is going to happen because people have imbibed,” he said.

“That’s something bar owners can do to help, by watching how much someone is served.”

Officers also conduct undercover compliance checks to ensure bars are not serving alcohol to underage patrons.

“It takes all of us working together to find a solution,” Sirois said.

Downtown residents and business owners have mixed opinions about the recent spurt of crime in that area, and several told the Johnson City Press last week they’re afraid crime will begin to affect their livelihood.

And it’s also apparently deterring some businesses from relocating to downtown Johnson City.

Kathy Shephard, co-owner of Jonesborough’s East TN Ghost Tours and Paranormal Technology, believes the rash of crimes has made the downtown Johnson City area unsafe for businesses.

In Jonesborough, the business ushers customers on late-night tours, telling historically based tales.

With the building in which they’re currently located up for sale, Shephard said the duo was considering relocating to downtown Johnson City, but they’ve decided against the relocation.

“When we have people with us on tours, we have to make sure they’re safe and comfortable,” she said. “People just wouldn’t feel safe enough to go out with us with all that’s going on.”

That bothers Sirois.

“We want the public perception to be that it is safe, because it is. If you ask people who frequent downtown, I think they would say it is a safe place to be,” he said. “You can take you family shopping, get a meal. We have challenges just like any other city, and when something does arise of this nature we want to be sure we put the resources in place to help alleviate those concerns.”

Sirois said downtown patrons should expect to see an increased police presence in the area.

“When we see spikes in a particular crime all throughout the city ... that’s when we apply more resources to diminish those,” he said. “We will be having extra patrols in the early morning hours through that area. In the future, we’ll start doing additional compliance checks with undercover officers and you’ll start to see bike patrols in the downtown area. We will adjust the community policing unit as well to give more concentration in that area.”

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