MPD not resting on its laurels in light of encouraging numbers

Although domestic assault reports, and the arrests resulting from those reports, are down for the third straight year, the Marshalltown police chief said such crimes are still the biggest challenge Marshalltown faces.

Marshalltown Police Chief Mike Tupper presented the police department’s annual report to the city council Monday night.

According to the report, the MPD responded to 126 instances of domestic assault, down from a five-year high of 160 in 2010, and made 110 arrests, down from 2011 where the department made 132 arrests. The report also shows that non-domestic assaults and sexual assaults are also down from 2010.

However, Tupper said with sexual and domestic assault, a reduction in the number of instances filed might indicate that fewer people are reporting these crimes.

“Those crimes are vastly under-reported,” Tupper said. “Depending on what studies you read, 90 to 95 percent of those crimes go unreported That is just the tip of the iceberg. We are responding to these types of family violence daily.”

Still, Tupper said, Marshalltown’s problems with domestic and sexual assault are commensurate with other cities its size. When he worked in Ottumwa, he said the numbers were equivocal to those he has seen thus far in Marshalltown. The MPD will continue to work to address quality-of-life issues. He said it’s been a priority since he started, and it will continue to be a priority.

Issues such as nuisance abatement, code enforcement and other minor offenses contribute to citizens feeling uncomfortable in their neighborhoods, Tupper said. Such an environment breeds crime.

Instances of both burglary and theft have also seen a decline, according to the report. Reports of both crimes have fallen every year since 2009.

Although the report shows officers have made fewer arrests every year since 2008, Marshalltown police officers filed more than 4,200 police reports in 2012, up slightly from 2011.

“It’s not the most glamorous thing,” Tupper said. “But it’s really the most important thing we do.”

Making sure officers document all aspects of an incident helps ensure convictions once the case proceeds through the criminal justice system, he said. If an officer failed to put something in writing, as far as lawyers and judges are concerned, it didn’t happen.

Officers’ use of force has also fallen each year since 2009, according to the report.

Tupper attributed that decline to an increase in officers’ ability to understand how to avoid using physical force by knowing when it’s appropriate. He called the tactic “verbal judo.”

“We place an emphasis on communication and talking to [criminals] and getting them to comply,” Tupper said. “Anytime an officer has to use force, they are putting themselves in danger of physical harm as well.”

Bethany Wirin, at-large council member, said she was glad to see the police department providing instruction on the proper installation of car seats.

Tupper said the car seat program will continue as the MPD looks for grant money to provide car seats to those without them; the MPD values its partnerships with agencies such as Mid-Iowa Community Action, Child Abuse Prevention Services and Domestic Violence Alternatives/Sexual Assault Center.

The Substance Abuse Treatment of Central Iowa grant that funds overtime for officers to perform compliance checks helps curb issues of substance abuse.

The report shows that police seized a significant amount more cocaine and meth in 2012 and substantially less marijuana. The numbers in the report do not include Mid-Iowa Drug Task Force seizures, with which the majority of the MPD’s investigations are held jointly.

Still, Tupper said meth and marijuana are the “problem” drugs in Marshalltown. However, he said Marshalltown does not have the drug problem many would project onto it.

“Do we have a drug problem in Marshalltown? Absolutely,” he said. “But it’s not any worse here than it is in other communities our size. It’s a problem all over.”

Tupper said the communication center needs more staff. Often, during critical situations, the two staff members on hand cannot adequately handle every aspect of the situation. He said sometimes the two dispatchers are doing the work of four people.

According to the report, the number of 911 calls to the communication center has increased every year since 2009, topping 20,000 in 2012.

While working with agencies like MICA, CAPS and DVA/SAC is essential, Tupper said working with service organizations, churches, businesses and citizens is also invaluable. The majority of police resources is spent on a small percent of the population. Most people are law-abiding and want to help ensure the safety of their community; the MPD needs to continue working with those people to help protect them.

“If we can help folks clean up their neighborhoods and feel safe and secure in their neighborhoods, there is going to be less crime,” he said. “There are always people that will push the limit, but 85 to 90 percent of our resources are spent on 5 percent of the population.”