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Indy crime rates lower as city population rises

INDEPENDENCE — As the population of Independence has doubled during the last 20 years, the combined rate for Part 1 and Part 2 crimes has decreased by half, said Chief Vern Wells at the Dec. 10 city council meeting.

The bars represent population growth over the past 20 years. The red line shows how the crime rate has dropped as population has grown over the same timeframe.

Graphic by Karyn Pressel

The bars represent population growth over the past 20 years. The red line shows how the crime rate has dropped as population has grown over the same timeframe.

December 18, 2013

INDEPENDENCE — As the population of Independence has doubled during the last 20 years, the combined rate for Part 1 and Part 2 crimes has decreased by half, said Chief Vern Wells at the Dec. 10 city council meeting.

The report was part of his "26 years in 26 minutes" update to the council discussing his career with the Independence Police Department.

"You can see we have moved pretty quickly in a growing trend," Wells said about the population growth. "Yet the combined total of our Part 1 and 2 crimes has been generally trending downward for those same 20 years."

Part 1 crimes are more serious offenses, such as murder, rape and robbery, Wells explained. Part 2 crimes are the "rest of the things people think about as crimes." Part 3 crimes are citations and city ordinance violations.

Vern Wells

Vern Wells

Wells said it was amazing that the crime rate is less than half of what it was 20 years ago while the population of the city was nearly double.

"This is simply not accomplished without community involvement," he said.

When Wells first started as chief, he said downtown Independence got a little wild.

Officers struggled to arrest all suspects involved with fights, because officers would be unable to respond to fresh fights while booking people on old ones.

Officers made numerous arrests of drug dealers downtown, Wells said, but it wasn’t until the business community got actively involved that dealers decided to leave Independence.

City councilors passed ordinances to help enforce penalties on over serving in bars and keeping alcohol out of city parks, he said.

The student-resource officer at schools helped reduce significant gang issues, Wells said. At one point, three full-time police officers worked at Central schools.

"That kind of program got us in touch with the community in ways we couldn't normally do," Wells said. "We were dealing with kids and parents."

Another indicator that the police department and community have worked well together to fight crime is the murder and attempted murder cases in the last 26 years, Wells said.

Every murder case in the last 26 years has been solved, he said.

"There have been three cases with five deaths (since 1987)," Wells said. In the two years preceding 1987, the year he was hired as chief, the city had three murders.

All but one attempted murder case has been solved, he added.

Independence has had 14 attempted murder cases since 1987.

The one case officers haven't solved continues to elude them simply because the suspect has left the country.

"We actually know who it is and where approximately he is," Wells said. "He's just in another country and we can't get to him. We'd solve it if he'd just come back. We've invited him, but he just hasn't come."

Wells will retire at the end of January.

Independence City Man-ager David Clyne said he expects to post for the position in a few weeks, accepting applications through January.

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