published Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Chattanooga police: Crime spiked in 2012

2012 violent crimes
2012 violent crimes
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Mayor-elect Andy Berke is hosting a forum on public safety at Tennessee Temple University in the gymnasium from 5 to 7 p.m. today.

Chattanooga Crime Comparison Report
Chattanooga Crime Comparison Report

The city's crime increased the most in Hixson and North Chattanooga last year, while downtown was the only area to see a decrease, according to preliminary 2012 crime figures from the Chattanooga Police Department.

The total reported crimes increased by nearly 7 percent from 2011 to 2012.

"It's cyclical," Police Chief Bobby Dodd said. "You're going to have a natural rebound or adjustment in it, where if you look back over the past 10 years crime has continued to go down."

In 2012, the crime rate was 1,037 per 100,000 people for violent crimes including homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Officers were able to close 38 percent of those reported cases, records show.

The rate of nonviolent crimes, which include burglary, larceny and auto theft, was 6,569 per 100,000 people.

"When you have a low year, say [2010 or 2011], when it corrects itself you'll have an increase of maybe a couple hundred incidents and that's going to look like a big increase," Dodd said.

To address some of the increased crime in neighborhoods, officers saturated the East Lake area during February, Dodd said. Officers then shifted resources to the Brainerd area until a recent spike in shootings.

"We're going to do this all over the city," Dodd said. "We're doing this to hopefully help neighborhoods get a foothold."

Though the MidTown Council of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce is working to revitalize the area, Brainerd's crime was up sharply last year. Last week a man was gunned down in the parking lot of a pharmacy near the Brainerd/Germantown Road intersection.

City Councilwoman Carol Berz, who represents Brainerd from Germantown Road to the county line, said crime has declined there so far this year.

"We've worked long and hard on it being down," she said.

Berz said the community also is working hard to bring in new businesses and promote the area. Lowering crime is part of that for the entire city, she said.

"It has to stop, and people have to not live in fear. There's a lot of places they can go. There's a lot of cities where they can live. We have to look at that."

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Berz said the issue is "on the mayor-elect's radar."

"He's taking a very serious look at that. I think he's supportive of it all over town, and I think he's supportive of the MidTown initiative and anything that's going to make the city better," she said.

Police noticed a spike in robberies last year.

Chattanooga Sgt. Scott Bales, who oversees the robbery unit, said there were more robberies at businesses such as restaurants and convenience stores, but home invasions and street robberies remained relatively stable.

A St. Elmo business, Mr. T's Pizza & Ice Cream at 3924 Tennessee Ave., was hit in the last year by a few men who robbed several businesses, including other restaurants.

Kim Gray, owner of Mr. T's, said the crime hasn't changed how the business functions or made her feel less safe.

"We've been here 25 years. It's just something that happened," she said. "It was just something that happened one time and, hopefully, will never happen again."

Most of the time, the robbery unit works about 15 to 20 robbery cases per week. In the last couple of months, those numbers have dropped to about four cases per week, Bales said.

"We know who's doing it, so we put pressure on them," he said. "We don't have enough to make an arrest, but things slow down."

Police still are investigating a Sunday robbery by three men with guns at a Hardee's at 4831 Highway 58.

"We're fixing to clear even more [cases]," Bales said.

On Wednesday, the unit arrested 36-year-old Ellis Thornhill in connection with the robbery of an Exxon gas station at 4004 Hixson Pike. A cashier had flagged an officer down for help.

Thornhill told officers he was "on autopilot" during the incident and apologized for what he had done, according to an arrest report. He faces charges of aggravated robbery, evading arrest and possession of a controlled substance.

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