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Sheriff disputes state crime statistics

Crime rates dropped overall in Alabama in 2009, according to statistics recently released by the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center.

Across Alabama, 12,023 fewer crimes were reported, a six percent decrease from 2008. Nineteen percent of those were cleared.

In Andalusia, there were five more crimes reported in 2009 than in 2008, although the number of rape cases, robberies, assaults, burglaries and car thefts were down. An increase in the number of larceny cases made the overall crime totals higher.

The Andalusia Police Department cleared 32.7 percent of its total crimes.

Chief Wilbur Williams explained that the APD’s clearance rate was slightly higher than rates in similarly sized cities and above the statewide average.

For instance, the city had one homicide case listed in the statistics.

“Actually, it wasn’t a homicide, but an attempted homicide,” Williams said, adding that it was the case in which a woman severely beat her mother. The case was cleared.

Forty percent of the rape cases reported in the city also were cleared, as were 34 percent of the assault cases, the statistics show. Often, Williams said, the victims know the accused and decide not to press charges.

But the opposite is true in robbery cases, he said. Because victims don’t recognize the robbers, it’s difficult to identify suspects. Two of the seven robberies (29 percent) were cleared in 2010. Burglary and larceny cases also are difficult to clear, he said. The APD cleared 33 percent of the burglaries reported in 2009 and 33 percent of the larcenies.

Andalusia is grouped with 38 comparable-sized cities with populations of 5,000 to 10,000. Andalusia is the fourth-largest of the cities in that category.

Sheriff Dennis Meeks disputed the state’s reported numbers for the county, an issue he attributed to a computer software problem.

When asked about the numbers reported for the county, Meeks had personnel in the sheriff’s office do a manual recount.

“In 2007, (the sheriff’s office) installed a new reporting program,” said Meeks, who was elected in November of 2006. “Since then, there have been many changes made; however, the problem remains that our report format must match (the ACJIC program) exactly or (the report) is rejected, which creates a discrepancy in the recorded totals.”

Meeks said his department has known about the problem since 2008 and is working the adaptability issue with its software program.

Williams said the data is important not only because the crime rates reflect upon community, but because the numbers are used in analyzing grant applications.

“These numbers are a common benchmark among law enforcement agencies to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of what they’re doing,” Williams said. “This is the bible in crime.”

Accurate data is important because it is used in determining the recipients of Local Law Enforcement Block Grants (LLEBG), he said.

As a result, he said, members of the APD closely track the statistics and the reporting.

“The government can’t make you do it,” Williams said. “But it’s so important to have them, they make funding contingent upon the numbers.”

The 194-page report is available online at www.acjic.alabama.gov/crime.cfm#cia