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LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar updates city council with annual report

LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar was quick to point out there were zero traffic fatalities in LaGrange in 2019.

“I think in the 25 years that I’ve been police chief we’ve had two years with zero traffic fatalities and 2019 is the third year,” he said. “We’ve had as many as seven, but most years it’s been three or four.”

Dekmar was referring to numbers from the police department’s 2019 annual report presented to LaGrange City Council Tuesday evening during its business meeting.

In 2018, there were two traffic fatalities, and in 2017, there was one.

Total traffic crashes in LaGrange are down in the past few years. The annual report says LaGrange saw 2,259 total crashes in 2019. That number is down slightly from 2018 at 2,290, and 2017 at 2,444.

LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton asked Dekmar why the city seems to excel in many other areas when compared to cities of its size, but when it comes to accidents, the numbers are higher.

“One of the factors that not a lot of communities like us have is that we have an infusion of folks that come here to work every day,” Dekmar said. “So, we have a 30,000 population, but during the day, we probably serve closer to 50,000. I think that’s a factor.”

The number of arrests made in LaGrange has dropped by about 1,000 in the past two years. The annual report cites that LaGrange officers made 3,181 arrests in 2019. In 2018, the department made 3,803 arrests, and 4,208 in 2017.

Diving deeper into those numbers, officers made 752 felony arrests in 2019, compared to 925 in 2018 and 1,044 in 2017.

Dekmar said out of those arrests in 2019, the use of force was deployed 27 times for just under 1 percent of the time. He said the average for accredited police departments is typically between 1 and 3 percent. Non-accredited agencies can see a ratio between 3 and 5 percent.

“I think the combination of robust training policies and the commitment our agency made, which was supported by this council about 10 to 12 years ago, to have every office engage in CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) training has paid dividends as it relates to use of force encounters,” he said.

The number of police pursuits remained level from 2018 at 12 pursuits. However, that number is down from 18 pursuits in 2017, which Dekmar said it due to more training within the department.

“We train our officers to constantly analyze whether or not the pursuit is safe or engaging in,” he said. “When it becomes clear that the violator is not going to stop, we do a cost-benefit analysis.”  

Altogether, the police department responded to 52,307 calls for service in 2019.

Another number Dekmar was happy to report Tuesday night is the number of euthanized animals in the city due to partnerships the police department has created with local shelters.

In 2019, 668 animals were euthanized, which is down from 795 in 2018. However, those numbers are significantly down from 20 years ago when 3,028 animals were put down in 1998.

“That’s still far too many,” Dekmar said. “But we’re making progress as a result of partnerships with the Atlanta Humane Society, the Puppy Pipeline, Paws of the Main Society in Columbus.”

Code enforcement violations are up, according to the annual report, but Dekmar said compliance levels are high. Although there were 3,958 violation citations, there were only 36 court cases as a result. 

Dekmar did inform the council he will be asking for two additional officers for a repeat offender program. 

He said 41 percent of Part One crime arrests involved individuals who were on probation or parole. Of that 41 percent, 30 percent were violent crimes, 27 percent were burglaries and 61 percent were for entering autos. 

“If you were back those numbers out, repeat offenders significantly impact our crime level,” Dekmar said. 

In January, Dekmar said the police department started to meet with offenders coming out of prison on parole to inform them of the services available and how the police department can help. 

“We spend a couple of hours reviewing with those individuals the emphasis of if you feel like you’re jammed up, and you don’t have anywhere to turn, call the police department, and we can find someone to assist you in the short term,” he said. 

Some of that assistance could be providing a bicycle for those who don’t have reliable transportation to get to work. He said caseworkers could also assist individuals in finding housing, assistance and medication. 

“I think the partnerships that we establish, to deal with things like homelessness, mental illness, truancy, delinquency, suicide, are also resources that we can help plug these folks in,” Dekmar said. 

He said the other part of that is that if those parole offenders insist on doing the crime, the police also need the resources to provide adequate supervision, intervention and contact so people don’t get hurt or facilitate a series of crimes. 

The police department also charts the number of people suffering from gunshot wounds. In 2019, the annual report shows the number of people shot doubled to 26 from 2018. It was the most people shot in LaGrange since 2016 with 18. 

“We are seeing an increase, as other communities are around the state, and around the nation, in gun violence,” Dekmar said. “That is concerning to me.” 

The number of gunshots reported by the police department has decreased. In 2019, the police department reported 286 total shots fired, which is down from 303 in 2018. In 2017, the department reported 378 shots and 520 shots in 2016. 

Although Dekmar said gun violence is increasing, the number of gang-related shootings has decreased from the past year. In 2019, there were four gang-related shootings. That number is down from 2018 when there were seven shootings due to gangs. 

Dekmar attributed the decrease to the council providing additional resources about eight years ago when the number of gang-related shootings reached double digits. 

“You all provided additional resources in the way of another investigator, an analyst and also a prosecutor,” he said. “And so we’ve seen a reduction in the number of violent crimes as it relates to gangs.”

The total number of gang cases has also reduced to 42 in 2019. In 2018, there were 58 cases and in 2017, there were 66 cases.