Following a national trend, crime numbers were down in Brevard this year compared to 2020, according to Police Chief Tom Jordan.
Jordan, who was officially sworn in as the leader of the Brevard Police Department (BPD) earlier this month, presented the department’s annual crime review at the last meeting of the Brevard City Council.
In looking at crime data, numbers were down across the board, with the only increase coming in one additional case of aggravated assault and robbery. In total, the crime rate was 14 per 1,000 residents, which is down from 20 per 1,000 residents in 2020.
Taking a further step back, crime is down in the city more than 60% since 2013, when the rate was 39 incidents per 1,000 residents.
Calls for service and arrests were also down, with the number of calls dropping from 26,865 calls in 2020 to 22,709 calls in 2021. Arrests fell from 466 last year to 385 this year.
The largest drop was in the number of traffic citations issued. BPD issued 731 traffic citations this year, down from 1,202 last year – a drop-off of approximately 40%. This year’s numbers were even smaller, proportionally, when compared to 2019 when BPD issued 2,360 traffic citations.
Jordan said the numbers certainly stand out and offered a few factors to be taken into consideration. The first, he said, was the COVID-19 pandemic that not only kept many people at home and off the roads, but also was a potential mitigating factor for officers that were perhaps hesitant to directly engage with drivers for safety reasons.
Another explanation could be the BPD switching to a new citation system last year that operates through the state level. Jordan said there were some early “growing pains” in the implementation of that new system and that some numbers most likely weren’t reported accurately. The data before council members also didn’t include warning tickets issued by officers, he said.
Jordan highlighted a number of ways he is trying to “reimagine” the BPD. Among those measures include the implementation of a new body camera system, the creation of a new use of force policy, emphasis on de-escalation and intervention, and increased accountability in instances of use of force.
The department is also working to develop new policies in the areas of deaf/hard-of-hearing people, individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities, and interactions with transgender and non-gender conforming individuals. Jordan said the department is also putting a greater emphasis on employee wellness and mental health.
Jordan said the department’s new body cameras are a great tool. They are resilient to weather and wear-and-tear, are GPS capable that can track where videos are recorded and feature high-quality images to be kept as evidence.
One feature of the new cameras is Axon Capture, which is an app that allows officers to capture evidence directly from the field that is then uploaded to www.evidence.com, which is a digital storage system that can capture and retain a virtually endless amount of data. Previously, Jordan said BPD was constantly struggling with running out of space storing data on physical servers.
Axon Capture also has a feature that allows citizens to send in photos of possible crime or other evidence directly to the BPD. This ability, Jordan said, allows the public to be more engaged with officers in the community’s efforts of crime reduction.
Currently, there are 28 officers in the BPD. During his presentation, Jordan alerted council members of his request to add two additional officers to monitor enforcement of municipal codes, which, beginning Jan. 1, 2022, becomes the responsibility of the police department.
Jordan said he was also looking at changing the look of the BPD’s patrol vehicles to distinguish them more from the Sheriff’s Office cars.
Presiding over her first official meeting as mayor, Maureen Copelof thanked Jordan for his presentation and was glad that so many of the department’s policies were available online for the public to see. The drop-off in the number of traffic citations was a concern, as she said speeding downtown is one of the top complaints she hears the most.
Speaking about body cameras, Councilman Maurice Jones asked how long captured data was kept. Jordan said the length that data was kept depended on the nature of the situation captured.
All data is kept for at least seven days before being cleared, but video of an instance that captured an instance of use of force would be kept longer or until the matter was resolved.
Councilman Aaron Baker said he was glad to see emphasis being placed on de-escalation and intervention, particularly in regard to mental health crises. Looking at code enforcement, he asked if that was typically a duty delegated to the police department.
Jordan said, in the past, it has typically been left to the planning department. However, shifting that responsibility to the police will allow the department to be more proactive. That begin said, Jordan’s hope is that the BPD can focus more on voluntary compliance as opposed to taking injunctive or punitive measures.
Councilwoman Geraldine Dinkins asked about BPD’s plan to create a new early warning system for the community.
Citing the bomb threat that shut down most of the downtown area earlier this March, Dinkins said she received feedback critical of the communication network in place involving the various agencies in charge of that situation and asked how this new system would remedy those issues.
Jordan agreed with Dinkins that the March scenario showed “vulnerability” in the department’s system and that lessons learned from that incident would be used in the development of the new system in an effort to close those gaps.