The crime rates reflect Group A crimes, which are “generally the most serious” according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Group A crimes include everything from theft and drug charges to rape and murder. In Johnson City, the most serious of those — categorized as “Crimes Against Persons,” which includes murder, rape and assault — have risen since 2015, but are down overall since 2010.
Group A crime rate (per 100,000 people) since 2010:
• 2018: 9,163.9
• 2017: 9,676.5
• 2016: 8,252.8
• 2015: 7,999.9
• 2014: 8,582.2
• 2013: 8,692.4
• 2012: 9,613.7
• 2011: 9,583.2
• 2010: 9,755.8
Crimes against people since 2010:
• 2018: 1,121
• 2017: 1,107
• 2016: 1,065
• 2015: 1,048
• 2014: 1,197
• 2013: 1,168
• 2012: 1,278
• 2011: 1,305
• 2010: 1,359
Crimes against property — which includes theft, larceny, fraud and vandalism — have seen dramatic increases since 2010, especially shoplifting offenses, which are the most common crime in Johnson City. Reported shoplifting offenses have increased 35% since 2010, while motor vehicle theft has increased 106% over the same time period. Theft from vehicles remains another common crime in Johnson City, but instances of that are down 35% since 2010 and dropped 63% from 2017 to 2018.
“(You fight larceny and theft) with proactive patrols,” said Training Officer Andy Clevinger with Johnson City Police Department. “That’s something our watch commanders and our command staff is really trying to promote, a lot of proactive patrol and being seen in the area.”
Johnson City Police Lt. Kevin Peters said a lot of auto thefts and thefts from vehicles stem from people not locking their doors at night, and recommends people always lock their car doors. There were 611 reports of thefts from vehicles and 161 auto thefts in 2017. In 2018 though, reported thefts from vehicles dropped 37%, but reported auto thefts rose 18%.
Clevinger also said it’s “hard to stop it all” when referring to theft and larceny, but said being seen can have a big impact in curbing things such as shoplifting. He also said that, in his experience, a lot of larceny and thefts can be tied back to one thing: drugs, something Peters agrees with.
“There’s an old saying, ‘you can tie about 90% of your criminal activity back to drugs in someway’ and that’s probably no exageration,” Peters said. “A lot of our burglaries, thefts and shoplifting can be tied back to people trying to get drugs.”
Even without tying in the potential link between larceny and drugs, drugs are perhaps the biggest reason for the overall crime increase — and are an area of major concern for police across the state.
In their report, the TBI noted that meth offenses alone have spiked in recent years, up 67% since 2016. Locally, drug-related offenses have increased 33% over the last five years and are up 103% since 2010.
“With the opioid crisis and now meth making a big comeback it’s really hard (to keep a handle on it), we’re short-staffed, we do have a drug unit and we participate with the (Drug Task Force),” said Peters. “We just don’t have enough personnel — manpower-wise — to staff those units the way they need to be staffed.”
Peters said the JCPD Drug Unit’s are constantly combating the drug trade, but that it’s difficult for them to keep a lid on something that’s so widespread.
“We’re doing what we can to keep our heads above water, but we could take every police officer we have and put them specifically towards drugs and we’re still going to be fighting a losing battle,” Peters said. “There’s just so many people doing it nowadays.”