A map containing data from the Springfield Police Department (and produced through LexisNexis mapping software) shows violent crime in Springfield in 2021. Violent crimes on this map include homicide, simple assault, aggravated assault and weapons violations. Most of Springfield’s assaults occur in the most densely-populated parts of the city. (Screenshot by Rance Burger)

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Springfield saw an increase in assaults and other crimes against people in 2021, according to a new report. However, the city’s overall crime rate fell.

The Springfield Police Department’s 2021 crime report tracks and analyzes more than 50 crime types in three categories: crimes against persons, crimes against property and crimes against society. Crimes against persons can be violent or nonviolent, and include assaults.

In 2021, there was a 3.6 percent increase from 2020 (211 more reports) for crimes against persons, an 11.3 percent decrease (a net drop of 1,928 reports) for crimes against property, and a 2.2 percent decrease (60 fewer reports) for crimes against society. 

Overall, the Springfield Police Department reports that the total number of crimes committed in Springfield in 2021 was down 6.9 percent compared to 2020, representing 1,777 fewer crime reports.

Police Chief Paul Williams discussed the 2021 crime report at a Springfield City Council meeting on March 7.

“I could highlight all the reductions, which are numerous throughout the report — very good numbers in trying to keep a handle on, keep a lid on the crime in our community, but our focus is going to be on reducing those things that are still up,” Williams said.

Violent crimes, at least simple assaults and aggravated assaults, continued to rise in 2021. 

Crime numbers

The Missouri State Highway Patrol collects data from the Springfield Police Department submitted to the FBI National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). The data showed that in 2021, women were slightly more likely than men to be victims of violent crimes in Springfield. Persons in their late 20s and early 30s were more likely to be the victims of violent crimes than any other age group. (Graphics: Missouri State Highway Patrol Statistical Analysis Center)

In 2021, Springfield police officers investigated 3,082 reports of simple assault and 2,104 cases of aggravated assault. Aggravated assaults rose 1.1 percent over 2020’s total of 2,082. Simple assaults were up by 245 cases, or 8.6 percent, year-over-year.

“That continues to be our No. 1 issue, violent crime,” Williams said.

Totals for murder, robbery and sexual assault all came down in 2021.

“The number of weapon law violations were up, as well, so that’s related to our continued increase in the number of guns in our community and the number of shots fired calls that we have,” Williams said.

People called Springfield police to report that they heard gunfire 1,457 times in 2021, for an average of 3.99 “shots heard” calls per day.

“Many times, the caller is only able to provide broad information as to the direction of the gunshot, which isn’t enough information to assist officers in the discovery of evidence,” the Springfield Police Department 2020 annual report explains, in reference to the difference between “shots heard” and “shots fired” calls to police.

Weapons law violations are classified as “crimes against society,” and can occur whenever a person is caught being in control of a firearm or weapon that they are not permitted to have. Weapons law cases climbed from 307 to 348 in Springfield, year-over-year, a gain of 13.4 percent.

“Through tracking and releasing crime data, we can give citizens a realistic look at crime in our community,” Williams said. “The information helps us identify successful policing strategies as well as highlighting areas where we can make improvements through community-wide participation in crime prevention.”

Crime data tracked through FBI system

Williams noted that 2021 marked the second year for the Springfield Police Department to take part in the FBI National Incident-Based Reporting System, so comparing 2020 crime data with 2021 crime data gave the first apples-to-apples data comparison since the Springfield police switched the way they count cases and collect data.

According to the FBI, data is compiled through the Uniform Crime Reporting system, allowing the national program to compile data on 52 different crimes across 23 categories of crimes. 

“It also presents arrest data for those crimes, as well as 10 additional categories for which only arrest data is collected,” a statement from the FBI’s 2020 NIBRS report reads.

Springfield was one of 9,880 participants in the Uniform Crime Reporting program from across the nation in 2020.

“As recommended by professional law enforcement organizations, the FBI has made nationwide implementation of NIBRS a top priority because NIBRS can provide more useful statistics to promote constructive discussion, measured planning, and informed policing,” the FBI statement reads.

The goal is for each participating community to more precisely capture crime data and report that crime data back to the citizens who live and work in the community.

According to the FBI’s protocol for uniform crime reporting, cases can be cleared or closed in two ways. To clear a case by arrest, a law enforcement agency must arrest a person, charge them with the commission of a crime and turn over sufficient evidence to a court for prosecution. A case may also be “cleared by exceptional means,” which means an offender is identified, law enforcement agents gather evidence and support the arrest of the offender, the offender’s location is identified, but the law enforcement agents encounter a “circumstance outside the control of law enforcement that prohibits the agency from arresting, charging and prosecuting the offender.”

Springfield police cleared 13 of the 19 homicide cases they investigated in 2021. They cleared 1,195 simple assault cases for a 38.7 percent clearance rate, and 914 aggravated assault cases, for a clearance rate of 43.4 percent.

“Clearance rates are fluid and change over time as investigations progress and eventually lead to prosecution. The side-by-side comparison serves as an example of how clearance rates have and will continue to evolve,” a statement from the Springfield police department clarifying clearances reads.

Springfield police made 2,547 service calls involving warrants in 2021, which was up from 1,796 warrant calls in 2020.

Rance Burger

Rance Burger is the managing editor for the Daily Citizen. He previously covered local governments from February 2022 to April 2023. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger