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Panhandle crime rate below state average

BOISE – Crime is down in Idaho, continuing a multi-year trend, and it’s down even more in North Idaho.

Both the number of serious crimes committed and the area’s crime rate in 2008 fell significantly from the previous year, according to the state’s latest statistics, and the Panhandle now has the third-lowest crime rate of the state’s six regions and is below the state average.

“I’d love to say it’s great police work,” said Kootenai County Sheriff’s Capt. Ben Wolfinger.

A Boise State University researcher said he’s not far off.

“We’ve got police departments that are pretty progressive,” said Andrew Giacomazzi, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at BSU. “They’re promoting more of this attitude in Idaho that it’s all of our responsibility, it’s not just the police – it’s you and I as citizens, we have a responsibility to make sure that our quality of life is at a level that is acceptable to us.”

That means neighborhood watch groups and others in the community coming together with police to target problems – from graffiti to overgrown weeds to prostitution – before they escalate, Giacomazzi said.

“What you can see is dramatic improvements in crime across several years, and that’s what we’re seeing here in Idaho,” he said.

Giacomazzi said that movement is a key factor in falling crime nationwide, and has been since the early 1990s. His doctoral dissertation in 1995 focused on a crime-ridden section of downtown Spokane, where citizen involvement led to dramatic drops in crime over two years.

Idaho’s annual “Crime in Idaho” statistical report, newly released, showed a 6.6 percent drop in crimes committed statewide in 2008, compared to 2007. The crime rate dropped 7.9 percent, violent crime was down 4.7 percent, and property crimes were down 7 percent.

In the Panhandle, crimes committed were down 8.5 percent from 2007, and the crime rate dropped 8.8 percent. North Idaho’s crime rate is well below that of the Boise area, the state’s most populous region, even though that region’s rate dropped by 10.6 percent from 2007.

Kootenai County continued to show a higher crime rate than the state as a whole in 2008, but its rate dropped 8.2 percent from 2007.

Wolfinger said the crime rate is based on the area’s permanent population and doesn’t take into account the thousands of tourists who regularly flow into and out of Kootenai County. “Over the holiday weekend, we probably had 100,000 people,” he said.

Some visitors commit crimes, he said, and some become victims of crime.

“Some people prey on those who visit, unfortunately, auto burglaries and things like that,” Wolfinger said.


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