Benton County Sheriff's Office gang unit has helped reduce crime, officials say

By Tyler Richardson, Tri-City HeraldApril 4, 2013 

The Benton County Sheriff's Office five-man gang team had an impact on major crimes in the county in 2012, officials said this week.

Last year was the first year the team was fully operational, and its presence made a difference in the number of major crimes and auto thefts reported, Sheriff Steve Keane said.

"(Major crime) is really down due to the gang team," he said. Major crime incidents dropped by 13 percent in 2012, with 756 reported cases in 2011 and 654 cases last year, Sgt. Bobbi Romine said.

However, seven more violent crimes -- including homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults -- were reported in 2012, Romine said. The sheriff's office made an arrest in 69 of 101 violent crime cases.

The number of auto thefts declined from 75 in 2011 to 38 in 2012. Lt. Chuck Jones attributed that drop to the closure of three "chop shops."

The unit conducted surveillance and used informants to serve 48 search warrants, clear 321 arrest warrants and seize around $10,000 in drug-related cash. It was assisted by a crime analyst who identifed trends and areas to focus on.

"We are constantly watching the stats and watching for problem areas to hit them as hard as we can and as fast as we can," Jones said.

Burglaries dipped by 27 percent in 2012. Keane credited the analyst's data as one of the reasons for that success.

"We are able to put our resources where we are the most effective," he said.

The sheriff's office only made arrests in 14 percent of the burglary cases and 16 percent of the theft cases. Keane said property thefts are difficult to solve because they leave little evidence for investigators to work with.

The overall number of calls the sheriff's office receives has gone up for the last six years, Jones said. The department recorded around 300 more calls in 2012 than in 2011.

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