With an already thin police force after layoffs and attrition, the Tulsa Police Department has taken another hit after more than 30 officers retired in May.
"Honestly, the entire Detective Division is running lean," said Jason Willingham, Tulsa Police Department public information officer. "Do we think it's going to stop us from gaining a conviction on someone? Absolutely not, but there is a possibility of it being delayed."
The Detective Division investigates reported crimes ranging from burglary and auto theft to homicides and sex crimes that did not result in an immediate arrest.
The Sex Crimes Unit within the division has been hit significantly hard by retirements. The unit typically includes a sergeant, a corporal and five investigators. But after one investigator was transferred after budget cuts and a sergeant and an investigator retired on May 31, the unit of seven has dwindled to four, which includes its supervisor Clay Asbill who is now working as both the corporal and the sergeant.
"I don't want to speculate how much more we can do," Asbill said. "Right now, every case is getting assigned and worked, and we're resolving them in a reasonable amount of time."
The cases the Sex Crimes Unit investigate include rapes, sexual assaults and sexual batteries reported by individuals 14 and older. As temperatures rise, the number of these crimes tends to rise as well, Asbill said.
The average number of rapes reported during the winter from December 2008 to March 2009 was 14.5. Last year, this number rose during the summer (from June to September) to 25.5. Even if numbers increase this year during the summer, the unit will continue the same practices used since the retirements -- working more hours, taking extra cases and meeting with victims in the evenings.
"With extra effort, we've been able to work with less," he said. "Our case load is larger, but we are not suspending any cases. All the cases are still being investigated."
With more cases and a larger workload per investigator, the unit must focus on tackling more serious sex crimes first, Willingham said. First-degree rapes typically get investigated first because these perpetrators tend to be repeat offenders and continue to put others in danger. Crimes like date rape do not usually make it to the top of the list; although, they are still investigated.
Because it has been less than three weeks since the Sex Crimes Unit took this hit, it is difficult to tell if the group's ability to solve these crimes in the same amount of time has been affected, Willingham said. However, the short-handed unit might only have to continue to work this way through the summer.
With shift changes coming in mid-August, Willingham said the unit could be back to previous numbers within a matter of months.
Even with fewer officers, Tulsa police will continue to investigate all "people crimes," Willingham said.
However, the police force does not have the manpower to investigate lower-tiered crimes such as some property crimes, he said.
"Basically all property crimes were affected by the layoffs," Willingham said. "There's definitely going to be a delay in those investigations."
However, the crime rate for property crimes reported for this year has dropped compared to numbers from last year. Property crimes including burglaries, larcenies and auto thefts are down 8 percent, Willingham said. Specifically, reports of larcenies have fallen by 14.8 percent as of the end of April compared to last year's numbers.
But some speculate it is not fewer crimes, but the way these crimes are being reported that has altered the numbers.
After the layoffs, some police who formerly investigated property crimes were transferred out into the field. Officers do not have the time to respond to some property crimes, leaving victims to file a report online or at the police department.
"It could just be a mere coincidence that crime is down right now," Willingham said. "Or it could be that people aren't reporting those crimes. I don't know that we'll ever know for sure."
This past April, Tia Clark walked up to her car surrounded by broken pieces of glass. Clark's car had been broken into after leaving it parked in a parking lot downtown overnight. With it being the week before she planned on filing her taxes, Clark had her W-2s stolen along with CDs, a cell phone and an iPod.
"I was broke and upset -- I cried when I saw it," she said.
After calling the police, she was surprised to hear that no one would be coming to the scene.
"The operator told me I could either go down (to the police station) during business hours to file a report and get it back in a week or so, or I could go on the website to file and get it back within a day or so," Clark said.
After receiving these instructions and realizing the police might not be able to investigate, she considered not reporting the crime, she said. Clark did go home later that night to file the report online, but the incident left her wanting to see changes in her city.
"It made me feel exploited -- my identity was stolen," she said. "I wanted to almost go protest to bring the Tulsa police back that got laid off so they would be able to find these thieves."
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