Friday, Apr 20, 2018
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Numbers game

The campaign debate on crime and public safety in Toledo needs to be relevant and substantive

Trivial tirades have come to define this year’s mayoral campaign in Toledo. The debate over the city’s future is bereft of any big ideas or grand solutions.

The latest example of this poisonous lack of substance is a spat over newly released statistics that show significant drops in overall crime. Toledo Councilman D. Michael Collins, a mayoral candidate, accused Mayor Mike Bell and Police Chief Derrick Diggs of misrepresenting crime numbers — and basically lying about how safe the city is — for political gain.

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Those charges are off target. Format differences can explain discrepancies between FBI Uniform Crime Report data and the police department’s internal numbers. The two systems catalogue and categorize statistics differently. FBI crime data are not used to determine deployment of police officers; they’re used to compare crime levels across the nation.

More to the point, arguing over the numbers sidesteps far more relevant questions: What would Mr. Collins, a former Toledo police officer, do to improve public safety and policing in Toledo? What’s his — or any other mayoral candidate’s — plan for doing better?

Two trends are clear from the statistics: Overall crime in Toledo, especially property crime, is going down. Violent crime, however, has grown. Homicides rose from 30 in 2011 to 36 last year, an increase of 20 percent. Meantime, shooting incidents, which FBI data don’t categorize, rose 14 percent, from 449 to 512.

Overall, the police department has done a good job of both responding to crime and preventing it. Chief Diggs understands the importance of community and data-driven policing. He integrates new technologies into police practices. Local homicide closure rates are high.

That said, there’s plenty of room for improvement, despite Mayor Bell’s chest-thumping on public safety. Toledo lacks the large-scale community partnerships that have assisted law enforcement in the most successful urban areas.

Public safety is a core campaign issue that affects the quality of life of everyone in Toledo. The debate on crime needs to be relevant and substantive.

Candidates must answer many questions: Can Toledo police make even better use of technology and data-driven policing? Are police staffing levels adequate? How well does Toledo’s 911 system work?

Does the department operate with sufficient transparency, and should it consider documents such as its gang map public information? Can civilians take more desk jobs in the department?

How can the department improve community relations? What can be done to build stronger partnerships with churches, block clubs, youth centers, and other grass-roots groups?

Should the department devote more officers and resources to domestic violence, which accounted for more than a third of Toledo’s homicides last year? Are officers adequately trained in domestic violence, and are they gathering sufficient evidence at the scene in case a victim refuses to cooperate later?

Can the Toledo Police Department and Lucas County Sheriff’s Department do more to cooperate and coordinate law-enforcement efforts? Can they form stronger partnerships with federal, state, and other local law enforcement agencies? Are the police department’s guidelines on use of deadly force adequate?

Should the chief do more to encourage city residency for his officers? Does he need stronger efforts to recruit African-American and Latino officers?

Candidates for mayor need to answer questions such as these to inform a legitimate and crucial debate on public safety in Toledo. They won’t get there by bickering over statistics.

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