They’re hard to miss.
Every couple of months, someone releases a Top 10 list ranking Anniston among the most dangerous cities in the country.
Those lists are loosely based on FBI crime statistics that are gathered annually from police departments all over the country. The FBI, however, warns against using those statistics to compare one city to another because the stats are gathered differently by each city.
Anniston, for instance, covers a police jurisdiction that adds significantly to the number of residents in its coverage area. But, crime rates are calculated using the city’s base population, which gives the appearance of a higher per capita crime rate. Also, not every department is responsible for patrolling its police jurisdiction, so those aren’t apples-to-apples comparisons.
The Anniston Star last year established a new policy of not reporting on those Top 10 rankings, but does see value in marking how any city is doing compared to previous years.
This year, those numbers show a dramatic drop in overall crime for the city of Anniston in 2019 compared to 2018.
So dramatic in fact that police Chief Shane Denham said he had to check them twice to be sure they were correct.
There were four homicides in 2019, compared to seven in 2018. Annison PD received 15 reports of sexual assault, down from 43; 27 robberies, down from 67; and 258 aggravated assaults, down from 604.
That’s welcome news for a city stereotyped as having high crime, and sometimes for good reason. A year ago, a group of concerned residents from across the city and around the area, including now-City Manager Steven Folks, began monthly Something To Do Sunday community gatherings in response to several shootings in Anniston involving young men, including one on Noble Street in the middle of the afternoon. The point was to reach out to the city’s youth and, hopefully, use positive activities and connections to help reduce poor behavior and bad decisions.
While those efforts might have helped highlight the goals, Denham said during a Ward 1 community meeting Thursday night at the Aquatic Center at McClellan that the real solution was the involvement of federal law enforcement and federal prosecutors, according to an article by The Star’s Tim Lockette.
Anniston and Oxford police last August announced a partnership with federal law-enforcement agencies to address drug-related and violent crimes, with the goal of removing “alpha criminals” from the streets.
“The number one reason is because of all the federal attention we’ve gotten here in Anniston and because the U.S. attorney’s office got back into prosecuting crimes,” Denham said. “The previous administration did not prosecute many crimes.”
The good news is that crime is actually down, according to the statistics. The bad news is that it does little to address the perception that crime is high in Anniston. Even Chief Denham didn’t believe the numbers when he saw them. How much more likely is it that residents who experience crime personally will dismiss the news?
Indeed, the same day The Star reported on the dropping crime numbers, we also reported the city’s first homicide of 2020. Jumar Sims Jr., 18, of Talladega was found shot to death in a white Nissan Altima parked off the road in the 3800 block of Noble Street.
No arrests had been made as of late Friday.
So, while it is great news that Anniston’s crime is trending downward, community leaders, local police and federal law enforcement must remain vigilant to keep the needle moving in the right direction.