WILKES-BARRE — Although residents at a council meeting expressed disbelief at Mayor Tom Leighton’s comment crime is down in the city, statistics are on his side.
Data from the Pennsylvania State Police Uniform Crime Reporting System showed a 5.06 percent decrease in known offenses in a year-to-year comparison as of Friday.
Leighton attributed the public’s perception of increased crime to officers making more arrests, and again the reporting system supports him. There were 811 total arrests as of Friday compared to 798 for June 14, 2012.
The offense and arrest totals do not match up because arrests have yet to be made in many of the reported crimes.
Police departments throughout the state are required by law to submit data to the state police, which in turn provides it to the FBI for a national perspective of crime. The state data are compiled to inform government officials and the public about crime and provide law enforcement with information for administrative and operational purposes.
The mayor was unavailable for comment Friday. City spokeswoman Liza Prokop referred the public to view the crime data online. “That’s the most up-to-date information,” she said.
The UCRS data for the city showed a total of 1,540 offenses known or reported to police as of Friday compared to 1,622 from a year ago. The crimes included 41 classifications ranging from murder and non-negligent manslaughter to disorderly conduct and a collection of unclassified offenses.
Overall there was an increase in 22 of the 41 classifications. Four classifications were unchanged. There were decreases in the remaining 15 classifications.
Stolen property crimes had the highest increase, of 933 percent, to 31 this year from three last year. Marijuana possession increased 138 percent to 19 reported offenses compared to eight. Murder and non-negligent manslaughter increased 50 percent to three from two.
Assault with a dangerous weapon other than a knife or firearm was unchanged at three reported offenses. Forgery and counterfeiting, drug sale and manufacturing of marijuana and driving under the influence also were unchanged.
There were no reports of possession of synthetic drugs, forcible rape and assault with a knife or cutting instrument. Those classifications showed a 100 percent decrease.
The data is comprehensive, but probably not complete. “The general trend across the country is about 50 percent of crimes get reported,” said Dennis Kenney, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
Still the statistics have value, he added. “It enables you to kind of follow trends,” Kenney said.
The reaction to the mayor’s comment during the council meeting was understandable, he said, noting the public’s perception of crime and the reality “frequently are not in sync.”
During the 1970s, crime was considered rampant in the New York subway system, but that was not the case, Kenney said.
In a city, crime does not occur equally in neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods experience more crime than others. Not surprisingly, people in the higher crime areas have a different perception than people in lower crime areas, Kenney explained.
The city, however, might be bucking the trend with the decrease.
Kenney said crime has been down consistently across the country for years, but the last batch of numbers has not been positive. “This is the first year it’s gone up,” he said.
While the city’s crime information is available, information about police staffing is not.
A resident told council at Thursday’s meeting that only four officers were on duty for the Saturday night into Sunday morning shift last weekend.
Prokop said Police Chief Gerry Dessoye has never publicly commented on how many patrol officers are on the street at all times. Speaking for Dessoye, Prokop said the manpower complement “has never been comprised” for the safety of the citizens and police officers.