Hopkinsville Police Chief Clayton Sumner recently took to Facebook to ask for the community’s help in making Hopkinsville safer and briefly shared local and national crime statistics over the last several years.
Nationally, violent crime data has revealed a steady increase from year to year, while non-violent crimes, such as thefts and property crimes, are trending down. Sumner shared on Facebook and with the New Era that HPD is seeing the same trends locally.
Sumner wrote on Facebook that murders in the U.S. increased over 30% between 2019 and 2020, which is the highest single-year increase in over a century. Kentucky alone saw a 61% increase, he added.
In Hopkinsville, from 2015 until now, the city has experienced 23 murders, according to the chief.
Sumner also shared that the number of murders that have occurred this year has already surpassed the total number for 2020.
He estimated that there were roughly four murders that occurred last year, while this year Hopkinsville has experienced at least six.
For violent crimes as a whole, Sumner shared that those crimes increased a total of 22% from 2019 to 2020. In 2019, Hopkinsville saw 88 violent crimes, while in 2020, the number jumped up to 108.
Violent crimes, according to HPD, are crimes that involve physical harm or threat of harm, such as assaults, murder, arson and rape. Non-violent crimes consist of offenses that are usually property or cyber-related, such as thefts, burglary, theft of identity, credit card fraud, etc.
Sumner shared statistics with the New Era regarding Hopkinsville’s violent crimes over the last several years.
In 2017, there were 90 violent crimes reported. In 2018, that number increased to 97. For 2019, there were 88 and again, in 2019, the number increased to 108.
Those trends reflect a relatively steady increase of violent crimes, which Sumner noted is most likely largely due to the recent increase of murders specifically. Those trends are also reflected nationally, Sumner emphasized.
Sumner expects the number of violent crimes to increase another roughly 20% for 2021, once the year ends and the department collects the total data for the year.
Sumner says that while that prediction as well as the trends the city and the nation has seen are unfortunate, he is not surprised by it.
“It saddens me, but I don’t know that it shocks me necessarily that we’re seeing some of those issues here when it’s happening across the country,” Sumner said.
The chief acknowledged that he does not know exactly why violent crimes have been trending this way over the last several years, but he surmised that there are several areas that may be affecting those statistics, such as police department staffing shortages, the justice system and poverty.
Sumner explained that one of the things that police can do to try and prevent crimes from occurring is by using “saturated patrolling,” which involves using a higher number of officers to patrol an area that has statistically seen a higher rate of crime than in other areas within the city.
However, due to staffing shortages, many departments, including HPD, simply don’t have the manpower to implement such a practice and make sure the rest of the city is adequately protected and patrolled.
“It makes it hard to do those saturated patrols when you don’t have a lot to be saturated with,” Sumner said.
At the same time, Sumner shared that the department has to make sure not to over-police in those areas as well as.
“You have to understand that once you start going into certain neighborhoods, from a policing aspect, you have to be careful not to be over-policing and there has to be a fine line there,” Sumner said.
However, Sumner said that this is one reason Hopkinsville recently approved the purchase of 10 Flock Camera System safety cameras to be installed throughout the city. He said those cameras will not prevent crimes, but will help the department solve crimes if a crime is committed within view of those cameras.
Sumner explained that while he would like to get more officers in the department and on the street, departments across the country are struggling to hire new officers and retain them, which leads many of those departments, including HPD, to be undermanned.
The other two areas Sumner mentioned that may be affecting the increase of violent crime statistics are areas that HPD has even less ability to change — the justice system and poverty.
Sumner shared that he believes the justice system may be giving some individuals, especially those with a pattern of criminal history that leads to or shows violence, too many second chances and allowing them out of custody and back onto the streets.
“Our justice system is just designed for certain things — you just get out of jail sometimes,” Sumner said before giving an example of an offender who has had several firearm-related charges, such as firearm possession and fire-arm theft.
“Not that those are the worst crimes ever, but those should be warning signs. Somewhere in the system that should be a warning sign that we had kids (or people) stealing or possessing firearms and that should be some kind of red flag of if we as a whole — and policing has very little to do with this — we better figure out a good way to intervene in this person’s life or something like a (shooting) is going to end up happening.”
Sumner shared that he does not blame judges for allowing individuals out of jail as judges also have their own guidelines and laws to follow. He continued to state that he does not know the answer of how the system can change and successfully intervene in the life of someone such as the example he gave.
Sumner continued to share that he believes a lot of crimes are driven by poverty. He pointed out that wealthier areas in Hopkinsville rarely see reports of violent crime and instead, those crimes tend to be saturated in low-income, poverty-stricken areas.
“If crime is running amok and there’s such an increase across the country, why isn’t violent crime happening in (wealthy) areas,” Sumner said. “It’s not because of race, it’s because of poverty and the police can’t fix poverty.”
Despite those areas that may be affecting the increase of violent crime statistics are hard for police to change themselves, Sumner continues to emphasize and requests the help of the community.
Sumner shared that if the community comes together to tackle an issue such as violent crimes, everyone has a better chance of successfully battling that issue.
“I do know that as a community and as a country as a whole that we are very intelligent together and it’s going to take everybody doing what they’re specialised in to come up with ways to fix these problems across the country and Hopkinsville,” Sumner said. “Policing only has one little piece of that and there’s only so much we can do.”
With that said, Sumner continues to ask for Hopkinsville’s help to try and make the city a safer place to live.