… but thefts are on the rise

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By Jason Dunn
Clinton County Chatter Staff Reporter

ST. JOHNS — The city of St. Johns last year saw its highest rate of grand larceny since 2011.

St. Johns Police vehicle emblem provided by Jason Dunn

St. Johns Police vehicle emblem provided by Jason Dunn

The 2015 St. Johns Police Department Annual Report recognizes grand larceny as an index crime, classifying it as any theft exceeding $1,000.

Officer Matt Dedyne attributes this to an overall increase in drug use, going on to state that there is a “direct” relationship between this high number and the most popular drug of choice currently, methamphetamine.

“So what we see with the increase in drug activity … and we’ll narrow it down to methamphetamine … is when people become addicted to this drug, it becomes their purpose for living, almost. So, they stop doing the things that they normally did like work, or contributing to their family or community,” Dedyne said.

“So, then what happens is they don’t have that income coming in and they are so concentrated on getting high, that they don’t have money to go out and buy the ingredients for themselves to cook the meth or for them to give the ingredients to someone else to cook it for them,” Dedyne said. “So we begin to see a direct correlation between drug use and property crimes.”

He goes on to mention that the addiction truly takes over. Because it can be produced so easily, it drives people to commit these crimes for the sole purpose of getting high.

“Then, they’ll start to break into people’s houses and businesses to steal items in order to pawn or sell them on Craigslist or Facebook, whatever means necessary to get that money to feed their habit. So there is definitely a correlation between property crimes and illicit drug use,” he said.

To this claim, 26-year St. Johns police veteran Lt. Robert Wilkie mentions that the same type of crime exists everywhere “just at a lower rate, here.”

According to Eastern Michigan University Professor Gregg Barak though, certain types of crime like property crime that exist specifically in rural areas are due to low population numbers.

He mentions through email, “Regarding the differences between crime in urban areas and that of smaller towns with respect to both incidents and rates of crime, of course, there are differences depending on the types of crime one is discussing/examining. However, the problem with a lot of data and graphs on the issue here is they do not address white collar crimes.

“The most common rural crimes are theft (burglaries) because there is a lot of stuff lying around and stored in facilities without security. There are not many eyes to deter or see who is taking what. Also, another difference worth thinking about, is that while violent crime is higher in urban than rural areas; violence in the rural areas is more personal or person known rather than stranger violence—comparatively.”

Jane Cleland, an employee at the 80-year-old Rehmann’s Clothing store on the downtown strip, says that historically, the establishment has never had an issue with grand larceny, or burglary in general.

“We’ve truly never had an issue with burglaries. We know most of the people that are customers, here. We walk around and try to be friendly with everybody. People are less likely to steal if they know that you’re watching.”

St. Johns Police station emblem provided by Jason Dunn

St. Johns Police station emblem provided by Jason Dunn

Comparatively, overall crime, both index and non-index, increased only slightly in 2015. What Dedyne says has increased tremendously though, in light of the current socio-political climate surrounding police brutality, is the public’s view of policing.

“I know that I am respectful when I talk to people; every person, whether it be positive or negative. And as you probably know, in law enforcement, we don’t always get that attitude back towards us. So, you know you kind of have to do what you can to calm them down; but I treat people with respect,” he said.

“But as far as what has been televised in the last year and a half, we have definitely noticed overall more disrespect on the street level. You’ll get more people that want to cry racism and all that other stuff. You get more people that videotape during traffic stops, but there’s no problem with me because they’re being recorded too,” he said. “But what I tell them though is if I have to write them a ticket, I tell them not to fight it here on the side of the road, but to fight it in court.”

He goes on further to state that the media’s skewed portrayal of police officers makes it harder for him to do his job.

“What the media consistently fails to do, however, is talk about the tens of thousands of police officers across the nation. About 99 percent of them do their jobs effectively; that’s a true statistic by the way. It’s that small niche of officers though, in that one percent that get thrown on to national TV that creates this insane type of thing that you see. But like I said, I try my best to do my job within the law.”

Wilkie believes that this shift in disrespect for the law and those who keep it has a lot to do with a cultural change in parents’ accountability for their children.

“We experience the same type of crime that most areas do, just at a lower rate. In regards to the way we are perceived around here though, that has definitely changed. Parents around here used to support cops. They use to curtail their kids activity,” he said. “Now they deny that their kids are doing anything wrong. But at the end of the day, we don’t have the same public support.”

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