Likewise, police staffing is an ever-changing — and critical — factor in the security of a city’s residents. Just ask Anniston about that, as well.
Those are perhaps two of the main reasons why any examination of violent crime rates must account for myriad variables that affect violence and police’s ability to combat it.
In that basic sense, the news today is acceptable in Anniston, where violent crime in Anniston was down nearly 17 percent in 2008. Since then, increases in that rate have not returned Calhoun County’s largest city to its elevated pre-2008 numbers.
As reporter Rebecca Walker illustrated in Sunday’s Star, several factors in recent years have affected Anniston’s rate. One of them was the Anniston Police Department’s brief six-month hiatus in responding to calls in the police jurisdiction area outside the city limits. That patrolling change had an impact on 2008’s noteworthy decrease.
But since then, the perception that violent crime is an indelible part of modern-day Anniston has taken a slight hit.
Leading that trend is a dramatic drop in the city’s homicide rate; only one known homicide is on the books thus far in 2010, and that follows a 2009 in which Anniston recorded only three criminal homicides within the city limits. Compare that to 2008, when there were double-digit homicides in a city unaccustomed to such consistent annual bloodshed.
Ask officials for the underlying causes of these dramatic shifts and the answers range from specifics — the aforementioned changes in patrol areas, for instance — to good police work to the normal ebb-and-flow of crime. That’s why it’s unwise to put too much ironclad stock in statistics that can change radically from year to year.
What is wise, however, is to emphasize the need for Anniston to have a properly funded and fully staffed police force.
Anniston isn’t Atlanta, but it’s not Mayberry, either; police work here is serious, dangerous business for which officers are underpaid.
Homicides in the city may be drastically reduced, but concerns over violent crimes such as burglaries and assaults haven’t abated. If anything, that’s why the reduced homicide rate hasn’t lessened the city’s reputation as being the high-crime center in an otherwise picturesque part of northeast Alabama.
The creation of a street-crimes team within the Anniston department is a sensible move. Unfortunately, that doesn’t alleviate the department’s staffing woes; Anniston Chief Layton McGrady told The Star he might have at least eight or nine open positions by the end of this month.
Cops who are committed to the cause are valuable, and they’re often hard to find — and difficult to retain — for small towns that offer small-town wages. (Annual pay for Anniston cops begins at $28,110, according to the force’s website.)
Even so, putting veteran officers on a team designed to police high-crime areas should give the Anniston force another tool for its ongoing effort to tamp down violence on some of our streets.
A city’s character as a place of violence is difficult to shake. A bad reputation sticks around. But improvements — be they small or large — should be championed, nonetheless.