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After two gun homicide investigations since year’s beginning, police chief updates City Council on Springfield public safety

Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams updates City Council on public safety on Feb. 26, 2024.
Courtesy City of Springfield screenshot
Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams updates City Council on public safety on Feb. 26, 2024.

Chief Paul Williams discussed how Springfield Police Department is addressing gun violence through public messaging this year.

Sexual assaults, down. Aggravated assaults, down. Springfield also saw decreases in crimes against property and crimes involving pornography and animal cruelty.

Those were some of the high points in Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams’ update on public safety last night.

"We set kind of a high for crime in 2020," Williams told Council.

City police officers recorded almost 26,000 major crime offenses that year. Last year, the figure had fallen to just over 18,000 offenses, almost 30 percent lower.

But gun violence is a serious exception in an overall picture that shows significant improvement since 2020.

Williams said, “Just last weekend we had three shootings, so that’s still an issue that’s going to affect us throughout the city.”

Among those, a double homicide involving adults in their late teens and early 20s that took place on East Erie Street... just four days before last night’s meeting.

Springfield police counted 337 shots fired calls four years ago. The number has bounced up and down since then. Last year, police seized 266 illegal guns, a number Williams considered positive because it’s up from 88 illegal guns seized four years ago.

While Springfield’s overall numbers for crimes against people, property and society have curved downward ever since 2020, the change was largely driven by decreases in crimes against property, according to data presented by Chief Williams last night.

Last year, the police department put out a public messaging campaign against crime, switching topics every three months. They covered robbery, then sexual assault, then theft from vehicles, then domestic violence. For all but domestic violence, SPD saw double-digit percentage reductions in crime.

So this year, they’re exclusively focusing their message campaign on gun violence.

Williams said, “One crime that really keeps me up at night, and continues to affect our community as a whole, is gun violence, in any way, shape or form.”

The focus on gun crime won praise from Councilwoman Monica Horton, who represents Zone 1 in northwest Springfield.

“That’s very encouraging to hear, and I hope the community is also encouraged to hear that," Horton said.

Other topics of concern included the ongoing struggle to fill police officer jobs. Chief Williams reported $5,000 to $10,000 new hire incentives are set to take effect beginning March 1.

Gregory Holman is a KSMU reporter and editor focusing on public affairs.