CONCORD – The decrease in total number of violent and property crimes in 2019, noted in the Concord Police Department annual report, is largely due to the communication between the department and the community, according to Chief Gary Gacek.
The report notes that the total number of violent crimes in Concord decreased by 21.1% and total property crimes decreased by 38% compared to the 10 year average. These two categories make up the part one crimes. The city has been dedicated to lowering the part one crimes rate for several years, Gacek said.
“Our goal is to reduce crimes, fear and disorder in our neighborhoods,” he said. “Our goal is to make our city one of the safest cities in the nation.”
The number of burglaries in the city significantly decreased in 2019 by 43.8% compared to the three year average. The police chief saw this reduction in crime as a major goal fulfilled.
“We can look at burglaries in terms of numbers and statistics, but each burglary that does not happen is one business, person or home that has not been violated,” he said. “Other than sex assaults, burglaries are one of the most invasive crimes that a victim can experience. These are people. These are victims. They are not just numbers.”
In order to reduce the crime rate, the department needs to be proactive in preventing crimes, the chief said. One way that the department has been able to accomplish this goal is through its vice and narcotics section
Starting in 2018, drug overdoses were treated as potential criminal investigations, the chief said. Investigators track down the source of the substance used in the overdose to conduct a follow-up investigation into where it came from and who is dealing it.
Finding the source of the substance and stopping its dissemination prevents future crimes, he said.
In addition to staying proactive, trust between the community and the department is vital. To build trust, the department wants to keep an open dialogue with the community, which is a vital part in preventing crime, Gacek said.
“We have for the most part a very engaged public,” he said. “They are very good at notifying us and telling us about things that don’t look right. This helps us prevent the next crime from happening. I will always give credit to the public for being honest with us.”
Another way the department has communicated with the public is through social media. Growing the department’s social media base has been an internal goal, the chief said.
Since many in the community consume their news from social media, Deputy Chief Jimmy Hughes said, the department needs to communicate through that platform.
“We have significantly increased our footprint on social media,” Hughes said. “We have interacted through community crime meetings and public safety activates to keep an engaged community. We are constantly stressing to our community members that, if they see something suspicious, to please contact us so we can address it in their neighborhood.”
The Nextdoor app for neighborhood residents has been a tool that has allowed the department to spread information to neighborhoods quickly and en masse.
But social media as a whole has changed the way the department can not only communicate with the public but also how it can disseminate information, Major Robert Ledwell said.
“We pretty much have our own news stations through these platforms,” he said.
Ledwell cited an example of how putting information out on social media enabled investigators to make an arrest.
Earlier in the year, the department released still images of suspects taken from security camera footage in a Concord Mills parking lot. The suspects were involved in armed robberies in the parking lot.
After the images were released on social media, Ledwell said, people quickly started emailing in information on the suspects. Within hours, the police were able to identify all three men. Putting the information out on social media was how the department learned the suspects’ identities, Ledwell explained.
“Had we not put them out on social media, we may not have been able to close that case,” he said.
Making arrests based off of tips from the community helps build trust, Gacek said. They can see the department acting on that information and it prompts the community to make that call again next time, he said.
But he cautions residents in expecting police to know about an incident simply because it is on social media. The non-emergency phone lines and the 9-1-1 operations are monitored 24/7, he said. But the department social media accounts are not.
If residents see something in their neighborhood that is suspicious and then discuss it on social media, the department may never see it. But if someone calls or emails it in, the department can address it, he explains.
“We can do a heck of a lot more to respond to what’s going on in real time if people send us a screen shot of what is happening,” Gacek said.
An open line of community is what builds trust, he said, and social media has just become an extension of that communication.