For the third straight year, the city of Amarillo has announced that overall crime has decreased, with the reduction of robberies and aggravated assault having significant decreases over the last year. Unfortunately, the one violent crime that has seen a substantial increase over the past year is homicide, with 21 reported.
Previously it had been reported that there were 27 homicides in Amarillo for 2021, but for purposes of how it is reported to the FBI, six of the initially reported homicide cases were considered justified defense cases.
Amarillo Police Chief Martin Birkenfeld spoke about the rise of homicides in Amarillo.
“Nationally, there has been an increase in homicides; there are societal issues at play that probably have a factor in this," Birkenfeld added.
Violent crime totals fell by more than 10%, from 1,680 violent crime incidents in 2020 to 1,498 incidents in 2021. Four types of crime are classified as violent crimes: homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Homicides were the only one of these crimes to increase over the past year. There were 51 fewer robberies and 135 fewer aggravated assaults in 2021. There was only a small reduction in rape crimes, which fell from 147 to 145.
The one positive that Amarillo reported on homicides was that 18 of 21 cases had been solved, giving the department an 85% homicide clearance rate. This number compares favorably to the national rate, which is around 50%.
“We have made gun crime a focus in the city,” Birkenfeld said. “We are trying to focus our resources on the areas of Amarillo where the most crime occurs. The numbers are promising that we are not going up in every category.”
Property crimes overall fell 8% for the year, with the most noticeable decrease being vehicle theft, which fell 19% with a reduction of 204 stolen vehicles for the year.
“While the statistics are preliminary, we are seeing some hopeful trends, as well as some areas that are going to require more attention,” Birkenfeld said. “We are still focusing on reducing shootings and other violent crimes such as robbery. Our strategy for the coming year includes a new project to address violent crime by adding some cutting-edge technology and a Real-Time Crime Center (RTCC).”
An RTCC is a 24/7 operations center where analysts monitor video cameras and computer-aided dispatch systems to enhance police situational awareness. These resources help coordinate faster responses and provide support in real-time to assist officers in the field.
In December, the Amarillo Police Department received a $500,000 grant from the Department of Justice along with other funds, including the American Rescue Plan, to set up an RTCC for the city.
“With this type of technology, we will be able to combat crime more effectively with our officers having the most information available to them,” Birkenfeld said. “We have spent the last few months researching real-time crime centers in other locations that are making significant use of this tool.”
Birkenfeld cited a valuable tool in reducing crime being the rise of home surveillance systems such as doorbell cameras. With more homeowners using these devices, more crimes are being caught on video that is then shared with the police department, leading to arrests.
"For a homeowner to have the ability for a fairly reasonable cost to protect their home with a surveillance system where they can access from their phone or from wherever,” Birkenfeld said, “I think it is an excellent use of technology that makes neighborhoods safer. I think it’s a great crime deterrent and investigative tool.”
The one area department that saw its most significant reduction in crimes is vehicle theft. Birkenfeld credited much of the community outreach that made the public more knowledgeable about not leaving keys in cars or leaving cars running.
“I am very optimistic; I hope we can continue this trend,” Birkenfeld said. “The community plays a huge part in helping to reduce crime.”
Birkenfeld also stressed that people should not leave their guns in their cars because a stolen gun can create dire circumstances down the line. He said that these guns are getting into the hands of criminals who will likely do bad things with them.
“Overall, Amarillo is a very safe place to live, work and play,” Birkenfeld said. “APD is committed to working hard to keep all our neighborhoods safe. We will do this by allocating our resources properly, leveraging technology, and most importantly, by building strong partnerships with Amarillo residents.”
This article originally appeared on Amarillo Globe-News: The City of Amarillo reports a reduction in overall crime for 2021