Crime — especially property crime — increased in Overland Park last year with many categories on track to stay higher or increase again by the end of this year, according to police department statistics.
After a dip in 2019, overall crime rates in 2020 climbed back up to slightly above where they were in 2018. Of particular note are increases in auto theft and auto burglary, but aggravated assault, domestic violence and weapons violations also increased last year.
The statistics note only incidents in which officers could verify evidence that a crime had taken place, said police spokesman Officer John Lacy.
Overall crime numbers were fairly consistent from 2016 through 2018, with totals ranging from 11,107 to 11,637. They dropped in 2019 to 10,496 but then came back up to 11,703, making last year the highest in the past five years.
The trend has continued this year, with 6,112 crimes at the halfway point. If that pace doesn’t slow, the city could cross 12,000 crimes by the end of the year, the police report says.
Weapons violations see biggest jump in 2020
Some of the biggest percentage increases were for vehicle break-ins, which were up 46%, followed by motor vehicle theft, up 31%.
Weapons violations were up by the most: 108%.
Over half of the weapons violations were for hand guns. That category consists of things like felons in possession or reckless shooting, Lacy said. Threatening someone with a gun would count as aggravated assault instead.
In 2021 so far, weapons violations don’t seem to be keeping pace. There were only 38 at the midpoint this year, compared to 100 for all of 2020.
Overland Park known as ‘easy target’
The crimes were spread fairly evenly over the city, with no real hot spots, Lacy said.
Residents’ behavior will play a big role in getting the auto burglary number down, Lacy said.
“Well over 80% of our auto burglaries are for either unlocked doors or rolled down windows. That’s very, very high,” he said.
In fact, Overland Park has a reputation as a community that leaves car doors and garages unlocked and windows rolled down. That word appears to have gotten out in burglary circles, Lacy said, where it’s not unusual for groups of criminals to go out in search of neighborhoods with unlocked vehicles.
Recently, a group from Topeka did just that, Lacy said. One of the members admitted after being arrested that Overland Park is known as an easy target.
The department has repeatedly warned on social media about this, especially last winter, when residents often left their cars running unoccupied in their driveways to warm up.
Nevertheless, the numbers for both auto theft and burglary have continued to rise this year, with both more than half way to exceeding last year’s statistics.
Besides keeping cars locked up, Lacy said motion sensor lights can also be a big deterrent.
“The one thing these burglars hate is motion lights,” he said. When someone approaches a car and those lights kick on, it causes people to look and see what’s going on, he said. Any kind of light that increases the chance of identifying the burglar can be a deterrent, he added.
Why the increase?
He also urged people not to use social media as a substitute for 911 in reporting suspicious activity.
In one case, Lacy said, a person watched a car burglary happen and reported it to the department’s social media. But it was the middle of the night, and wasn’t seen until the next morning. It turned out there were officers in the area who might have caught the burglars had they known at the time, he said.
The department doesn’t do a deep dive into the reasons for increases in other crimes.
Domestic violence was up 27%, perhaps because the pandemic kept people home with abusers, he said. But he had no theories on why aggravated assault was up 13%.
The department would like to keep a big spike in crime from happening, but may not be able to bring the raw numbers down, Lacy said.
“Our population is increasing, too. We have to take that into consideration. We’re the second largest city in Kansas now,” he said. “We’d like to see everything go down, but we know in the real world that’s not going to happen. The more people that you have the more conflict you’re going to have.”