Watch now: Violent crime dropped in Lincoln last year, but thefts of cars, catalytic converters soared | Crime and Courts

Watch now: Violent crime dropped in Lincoln last year, but thefts of cars, catalytic converters soared | Crime and Courts

After 2020 brought an uptick of violent crime to Lincoln, 2021 proved to be a milder year for violence in the city — a reversal not seen in most of the country’s major cities, where homicides ticked up for the second year in a row.

The Lincoln Police Department fielded reports of 1,093 violent crimes in 2021, marking a 15.3% decrease in homicides, aggravated assaults, rapes and robberies combined from 2020, according to new data released Thursday.

That marks a 1.6% decrease compared to the five-year average from 2016 to 2020 and the lowest violent crime total in Lincoln since 2018, when LPD fielded reports of 1,040 such crimes.

At a press conference alongside Lincoln Police Chief Teresa Ewins on Thursday morning, Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird applauded the work of the city’s police department and called public safety her administration’s “No. 1 priority.”

“(This) is good news for our city,” the mayor said, “and all the people who call Lincoln home.”

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In addition to the decrease in violent crime, LPD fielded fewer reports of “Part 1” crimes, which encompass violent crimes as well as auto theft, burglary, larceny and arson.

LPD took reports of 9,297 Part 1 crimes in 2021 — a decrease from 9,916 such crimes in 2020 and a 3.3% decrease compared to the five-year average, according to department data.

The decreases came as many of the country’s major cities saw increases in violent crimes and some cities set homicide records in the second year of the pandemic.

Homicides increased by 4% in 22 major U.S. cities through the third quarter of 2021, according to a study from the Council on Criminal Justice, a criminal justice policy and research organization. In Lincoln, police investigated seven known homicides last year, a total that matches 2020 and doesn’t represent any substantial difference to the city’s yearly average over the past decade.

“We’re definitely in a city that is reducing crime and creating positive environments for our community,” Ewins said. “And so that’s really great for when we look to our future.”

The decrease in violent crime reports came as the city’s dispatch center saw an increase in emergency call volume, though a continued decrease in total calls.

Dispatchers fielded 472,774 calls in 2021, an average of nearly 1,300 calls a day. More than 75% of calls made to police were non-emergency calls, according to department data, prompting Ewins to seek alternate ways to route the calls, which she said can be a strain on the city’s dispatch center.

“(The calls for service) is a number I’d like to see reduced and really have those other calls that are not necessarily a police or fire function go into a different direction,” Ewins said. “If we, as law enforcement, need to have a call center for taking simple reports — like a lost wallet or something like that — then, we want to lighten that load.”

While there were few instances of violent crime in 2021, car thefts and thefts of catalytic converters soared last year.

Lincoln saw 692 car thefts in 2021 — a 63% increase over the five-year average from 2016 through 2020. Nearly 1 in 5 stolen vehicles had been left running when they were taken in 2021, according to LPD data, and 24% of stolen cars had the keys inside.

Lincoln auto theft graphic

Lincoln larceny from auto graphic

Police have recovered 82% of vehicles reported stolen in 2021 — in part because thieves often steal the cars for in-town use, according to LPD.

The department has been less successful in solving and preventing the theft of catalytic converters, which skyrocketed last year and have remained prevalent in the early months of 2022.

After only 107 catalytic converters were reported stolen in Lincoln from 2016-2019, LPD fielded reports of 978 stolen converters last year — a 257% increase from 2020 and a 1,183% increase over the five-year average.

Ewins on Thursday highlighted the decrease in converter thefts in November and December last year after the City Council in September approved an ordinance requiring a permit to possess, buy or sell unattached catalytic converters in effort to curb the rise in thefts. But she said the overall increase in converter thefts last year was unacceptable, vowing to “do some proactive enforcement in the coming year.”

“It really is about having the video (of the crime occurring),” Ewins said, elaborating on the department’s plan to curb the thefts in 2022. “It is about being proactive in talking and checking on the people that are purchasing the catalytic converters illegally. That’s a big focus for us.

“But being proactive is really having my officers going out and focusing specifically on that. Because there are timeframes. People are not just lifting cars in broad daylight, a majority of the time.”

It’s unclear if the new the rule change — which police have acknowledge “isn’t a magic ordinance” — has had any impact on the rate of converter thefts in Lincoln.

The ordinance went into affect Oct. 1 and proceeded a record-setting month for converter thefts in the city, with 174 catalytic converters reported stolen in 31 days. Another 173 converters were reported stolen in the last two months of 2021, according to department data.

LPD fielded reports of 28 stolen catalytic converters in the first 11 days of 2022 — 64% of which targeted Honda and Kia vehicles.

As of Jan. 12, LPD had yet to issue the city’s first citation for a violation of the catalytic converter ordinance passed in September.

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On Twitter @andrewwegley