Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

TOP STORY >> No stopping crime

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

The bust last week of a methamphetamine lab near Macon in north Pulaski County is precisely the kind of event that leaves some residents feeling vulnerable and fearful, and with cutbacks in road deputies and felony jail beds, the problem will likely only get worse.
That’s according to John Rehrauer, spokesman for the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office.

One woman, who didn’t want to be identified, sought out Cong. Vic Snyder, who came to Jack-sonville to hear from his constituents last week. She said she and her neighbors in the Gravel Ridge area were afraid of local drug users and meth cooks, and they need more law enforcement help at a time when they are getting less.

Budget cuts for 2006 reduced the number of deputies by about 23, but by juggling personnel — moving people from the main office to the outlying areas — each precinct is down only about two deputies, Rehrauer said.

“The way we have realigned and taken people out of jobs in our building,” Rehrauer said, “we are down about two deputies per district from before.”

He said the north central district — Gravel Ridge area — has nine deputies; the northwest district — the Oak Grove area — has eight, and the northeast district — which includes McAlmont — has seven.

Rehrauer said the department is looking at when and where crimes are occurring and moving people around in response. Sometimes shifts overlap to allow a concentration of deputies during peak crime times.

“If we get a rash of a certain kind of crime, we have to do more task-force type things,” he said.
When there was a rash of burglaries and crime in the north central district, the department took two thirds of its investigators and some reserve deputies and flooded the area.

“The problem is you make the arrest and how long are they gone before they are right back on the street?” Rehrauer said.

Reports of robberies, stolen cars and rapes in Pulaski County in 2005 were slightly down from 2004 reports, according to Uni-form Crime Reporting Statistics provided by the sheriff’s office, and the number of burglaries in-creased slightly.

But for budgetary reasons, the county has closed its work-release center and reduced the capacity of its jail to hold felons from 1,125 to 880, so there will be more criminals on the streets instead of in jail for the foreseeable future, according to Rehrauer.
The sheriff’s office breaks unincorporated parts of Pulaski County up into six districts.

In 2005, the three northern districts accounted for 11 of 23 robberies in the county, 212 of the 360 burglaries countywide, 132 of 212 car thefts and 14 of 26 rapes.

Between 2004 and 2005 in the north Pulaski precincts, robberies fell from 18 to 11, burglaries in-creased from 198 to 212, car thefts increased from 112 to 132 and rapes fell from 20 in 2004 to 14 in 2005.

Rehrauer said his concern was that the numbers don’t reflect the current situation, with the number of available jail beds down by a third. “Residential burglaries, car theft … that’s the type of crime we fear is going to go up,” he said. “You’re not going to see homicide rates soar, those people are still going to be incarcerated. It’s crimes against people and properties.

“More of those people are not going to serve any significant jail time. We’re going to do our best with what we have to work with, but … there are people getting citations for things they should be in jail for.”

“We’ve seen the number of meth labs go down over the past couple of years,” Rehrauer added. “There is less local manufacturing, but that doesn’t mean the usage is going down. More meth is being brought in.”

Rehrauer said residents aware of criminal activity should contact the sheriff’s office.
Their identities can be protected, he said.