Police see anomaly in IC crime statistics

BY ABE TEKIPPE | JUNE 09, 2009 7:26 AM

Despite a percieved wave of violence stretching from downtown to the Southeast Side, Iowa City followed a national downward trend in violent crime.

While the 224 incidents reported to Iowa City police in 2008 were fewer than the 236 reported in 2007, authorities are hesitant to compare Iowa City statistics with national ones.

“You have everything from Florida to Alaska [included in the national statistics],” Iowa City police Sgt. Troy Kelsay said, and crime is unique to each city due to a number of factors, such as population and economic prosperity.

FBI statistics indicate that, nationally, the number of reported violent crimes — which include murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault — decreased by 2.5 percent in 2008 compared with figures from 2007. Among agencies in the Midwest, this figure was even lower, dropping by 3.8 percent.

Steve Fischer, a spokesman for the FBI, said it is important to “keep in mind that [the 2.5 percent decrease] is a national figure that is based on data that we’ve gathered from over 12,750 agencies across the country.”

Some of these agencies provide the minimum six months’ worth of data, while others provide up to 12, he said.

“If I were curious what Iowa City trends were, I would look at Iowa City statistics,” Kelsay said.
Of the four offenses classified by the FBI as violent crimes, two — murder and robbery — increased locally, according to Iowa City police statistics. The other two categories of violent crime showed a decrease.

“I think that [2009] has been much less eventful so far,” Kelsay said. “What has occurred is more along the lines of incidents that we would typically expect to see.”

But not everyone believes crime has changed.

“There have been a lot of stories lately it seems about really violent crimes, but I’m guessing [crime] hasn’t changed that much overall,” UI junior Emily Ladendorf said.

According to Kelsay, 2008 may have been an exception for his department in terms of violent crime, pointing to the three incidents of homicide that occurred, the first time local police have investigated a murder since 2004.

The deadliest of these took place in March, when Steven Sueppel killed his wife, Sheryl, and their four young children before taking his own life.

“That’s just not a normal occurrence in the city of Iowa City,” Kelsay said.

Other abnormalities, such as the serial groper, also contributed to the 2008 statistics, he said.

“Last year, we had outliers in many of the categories that often get a lot of media attention and community attention,” he said. “It was just an odd year.”

In addition to crime reported to city police, UI police saw 16 incidents of violent crime in 2008, up from 12 in 2007, according to police statistics.

Unlike the Iowa City police statistics, these incidents were not factored into the FBI’s preliminary report.

UI graduate student Vaibhav Yadav said he was concerned about what he saw as an increase in violent crime extending into 2009.

“Because of the increasing violence downtown, especially during the weekends, it has become less safe to have fun,” he said.

As of May 31, a total of 94 incidents of violent crime had been reported to Iowa City police, including zero incidents of murder, 12 incidents of rape, 22 incidents of robbery, and 60 incidents of aggravated assault, according to police statistics.

“I believe that last year … was more of an anomaly than a trend,” Kelsay said. “But we’ll see what this year brings.”

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