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Police chief: Department's new philosophy contributed to decrease in Paducah crime

BY CORIANNE EGAN cegan@paducahsun.com

The streets of Paducah were a little safer last year, as statistics show crime was down nearly 8 percent in 2013.

Violent offenses - which include murder, rape, robbery and assault, dropped 12.6 percent from 2012, while property crimes, such as burglary, larceny and auto theft, fell by 7.2 percent. Misdemeanors and drug offenses were also down in 2013. While police statistics are easy to read, it's often hard to explain why numbers fluctuate from year to year. Several new initiatives and policing tactics may have an effect, Paducah Police Department Chief Brandon Barnhill said, but it comes down to a very simple philosophy.

"It's about being proactive and being productive," Barnhill said. "We are forming beneficial relationships with the people we police."

Barnhill, who is in his fifth month as chief, has headed programs like Coffee with a Cop, which help residents meet officers under non-emergency circumstances. The department also has increased its outreach programs in local schools and civic clubs in the past two years. That, combined with data-driven policing - officers identifying problem areas for crime and altering patrols as needed - have helped the department drive down crime, he said.

"There's a full pie, and all of these little individual pieces influence whether that pie gets bigger or smaller," Barnhill said. "There's the policing, the new resources, technological advances, and so many other parts. All of them combined together help us to get the numbers down."

Last year, larceny reports rose 15 percent because of a spike in shoplifting activity. The department started an initiative to be more visible and cut down on shoplifting opportunities. Officers also reached out to area stores, like Walmart, Kohl's, dollar stores and locations in the Kentucky Oaks Mall, to work with their managers and loss prevention employees to prevent theft. In 2013, the extra work paid off in the form of an 8.6 percent drop in larceny reports.

The Traffic Enforcement Unit - a three-officer team that works specifically with traffic violations - also had its first full year on the books in 2013. While injury collisions dropped by 19 percent in 2013, the vigilance also has an unintended effect: catching those with active arrest warrants during traffic stops. As a department, including the TEU, Paducah police served 10 percent more warrants than in 2012.

Paducah police also created a position to combat a growing number of prescription drug abuse calls. Detective John Tolliver is the department's prescription drug diversion investigator. In his first year on that job, he opened 145 cases and arrested 40 people. Tolliver also developed the Pharmacy Alert System, which local druggists use to share information and help identify those who are misusing the system.

"We have better resources, and our officers can handle situations by communicating and deciding the best recourse for each situation," Barnhill said. "We can't just arrest our way out of crime, and we know that."

Contact Corianne Egan, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8652 or follow @CoriEgan on Twitter.

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