Violent crimes diminish

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BELOIT - Data provided annually by the Beloit Police Department to the FBI states the city experienced a decrease in violent and property crimes, according to the 2017 report provided by the department.

Violent crime decreased by 14 percent, from 181 offenses in 2016 compared to 156 last year, according to the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) report. Overall property crimes decreased marginally, from 1,132 in 2016 to 1,120 in 2017, a one percent decrease.

An earlier report released in January showed no shooting deaths in the city for the first time in 11 years, according to command staff. One homicide was reported in 2017, the lowest total in five years. Since 2007, 33 homicides have been reported by Beloit police, with 2014 recording the most homicides since 2007, with eight reported.

Beloit Police Chief David Zibolski said the decrease in violent crime could be attributed to increased community support and improved investigative efforts.

"I think there's a sense of urgency on the part of our street officers combined with our really strong investigative techniques makes it a complete team effort," Zibolski said.

In total, the department cleared 70 percent of all violent crimes in 2017 compared to 60 percent cleared in 2016. All reported incidents of robbery and aggravated assault decreased from 156 in 2016 to 123 in 2017, according to the report. According to the FBI, the department's violent crime clearance rate is higher than the regional average of 47 percent.

Beloit and law enforcement agencies, including the Rock County Sheriff's Office and Janesville Police Department, reported an increased number of forcible rapes in 2017 due to the FBI's definition of rape expanding to include more incident types. In Beloit, 23 were reported in 2016, with 32 being included under the new FBI definition, the report said.

Gun-related crimes have also decreased in Beloit by 29 percent. In 2016, 7 shootings with injury were reported, with five shootings with injuries reported the next year, according to the report. Shots fired reports decreased from 62 reported incidents to 22 in 2017. However, the department only counts shots fired reports when evidence of a shooting is recovered, Zibolski said.

Zibolski said he still supported changes to the state's bail system as alleged dangerous offenders managed to bond out of jail in multiple shootings since last year. He highlighted the recent incident where a Beloit teen shot himself in the leg while cleaning a handgun. Anthony D.S. Lowery was out on bond on the November 2016 robbery case, and authorities allege Lowery was involved in the string of armed robberies from October and November of 2016. He is charged with two counts of party to the crime of armed robbery.

At present no changes are expected in Madison, but Zibolski said the county's decision to begin funding the Evidence-Based Decision Making process this year was a step forward. The county budget has set aside $158,584 to begin laying the groundwork for a pretrial monitoring and assessment program. The Rock County committee has set its goals on risk screening and assessment, pre-charge diversions, enhanced deferred prosecution, behavioral health information sharing and education and engagement, according to Rock County District Attorney David O'Leary. But the changes are expected to take years to be completely in place.

The report shows burglaries and motor vehicle thefts increased in 2017, with burglaries spiking 42 percent from 149 reported break-ins in 2016 to 211 in 2017. Zibolski attributed the break-ins to a select group of alleged perpetrators. In December, the department arrested Kenneth Hill, 53, believing he was connected to at least 15 burglaries of vacant properties. The investigation followed months of the department monitoring area recycling facilities.

Motor vehicle thefts increased from 35 reports in 2016 to 40 in 2017, an increase of 14 percent, the report said.

The department will shift its staffing schedule to accommodate a new, 10-hour shift schedule by March 31, a move that will better prepare the department to tackle times when crime reports are most frequently received by officers. The move will also reduce overtime costs, Zibolski speculated. The department spent $1.33 million on overtime in 2017, after being originally budged for $669,793, according to city financial data. As of mid-February, the department had spent $93,312 of its allocated $616,000 for overtime.

After the city's patrol areas were redefined and reduced from eight to six last summer, Zibolski said the department is set to create a bicycle patrol unit to increase officer contact with residents. The department will also continue to host community meetings as needed with residents over myriad of issues.

Zibolski commended the department's Violent Crimes Interdiction Team (VCIT) for their work in following up on violent crimes in the city, and said the department would continue to cooperate with the narcotics-focused Special Investigations Unit (SIU) by the Rock County Sheriff's Office for future investigations. The department shifted its gang and drug unit to VCIT in 2015.

The department will host its media day highlighting 2017's policing efforts Wednesday.

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