AUBURN – When Deputy Chief Phil Crowell of the Auburn Police Department picked up the Sun Journal Wednesday, he felt a twinge of pride. He read about the state crime statistics and began to compare them to the figures from the city he helps to protect.

“Our crime stats here are down quite a bit this year,” Crowell said.

While the number of overall crimes across the state dropped by an average of half a percent in 2002, the drop in crime in Auburn was much more dramatic.

In 2001, the rate in Auburn was 48.21 serious crimes for every 1,000 people. That rate dropped last year to 36.46. It’s a drop of almost 25 percent.

There’s more. Although rape was on the rise significantly across the state, the number of forcible sexual assaults in Auburn dropped from 14 to nine over the same time period. Those figures represent a drop of 35.7 percent.

Domestic assaults were down by 39 percent and there were 80 fewer burglaries. The number of thefts dropped by 130 over the course of the year. Thefts from vehicles were down 49 percent and the number of aggravated assaults dropped from 36 to 8 in the same period.

Crowell said he is particularly proud of the lower crime rate in Auburn for several reasons. The department receives less grant money than some bigger departments so officers there have to make due with what they have.

“Every one of our officers has been trained in problem solving,” Crowell said. “They really put that to work.”

For instance, Crowell said, Auburn police officers have been working hard to reduce the number of domestic assaults in that city. Particularly, they are striving to make sure known offenders do not continue to harass or harm their victims.

Cops make routine checks at the homes of victims of domestic violence. They speak with neighbors. The idea is to make sure the accused batterer is not back causing problems.

“Our follow-up program really focuses on those repeat offenders,” Crowell said. “We started showing up at the doors of the victims to check for possible violations. Word started getting out. The offenders knew that the police might show up.”

In 2000, there were 146 reports of domestic violence and 69 of those involved repeat offenders. In 2001, there were 142 domestic assaults and 55 of them involved suspects from earlier incidents.

Then Auburn police began putting their follow up program into action. The number of people returning to assail earlier victims fell dramatically.

“We dropped it down to 19 repeat offenders last year,” Crowell said. “We’re building up trust with the victims. They don’t complain about us following up. It takes the pressure off – they don’t have to make the call to police and rat the offender out themselves.”

The overall number of domestic assaults in Auburn last year fell to 92, Crowell said.

The only significant crime on the rise in Auburn last year was arson, which rose from eight to 10. But Crowell pointed out that five of those arsons were the work of one man – a former Minot firefighter accused of going on a fire-setting spree in late November and early December.

City Manager Pat Finnigan credited the Police Department with making use of the various community groups and working with whatever grant money was available. “The chief and his deputy chief have been putting a lot of energy into crime prevention,” she said. “You neve know if all these efforts are going to pay off. In this case, it did. They’ve been doing a great job, and we’re very, very proud.”

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