Belleville Police Chief Bill Clay's message was clear Tuesday night when he spoke to members of the Belleville Main Street Committee -- crime is not on the rise in the city.
"We are not seeing a spike in our crime," Clay said. "We are seeing the same level of crime" the city has had in the past.
Belleville Main Street, a committee of the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce, asked Clay to speak to members in light of the recent armed robbery of a woman sitting in her vehicle on a parking lot downtown.
More than two dozen residents and business owners attended the meeting at Kaskaskia Engineering Group on East Main Street.
Clay told attendees that both suspects involved in the armed robbery that occurred at 9:30 p.m. Thursday on South High at East Washington streets are behind bars.
Brandon D. Goff, 19, of Belleville, was charged Saturday with felony armed robbery, and the second suspect was taken into custody Tuesday, according to Clay. The second person's name will not be released until formal charges are filed.
Police believe Goff approached the woman's car and opened the driver's door, pointed a handgun at her and demanded her purse. Clay said the second suspect was waiting in a nearby car.
Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert described the incident as "terrible." However, he said, "we can't let fear drive us away." Eckert credited the Police Department for apprehending the individuals responsible for the crime.
Clay commended the victim for doing "everything right" including complying with the suspect's request and notifying police immediately.
"I'm not here to tell you we can stop all these kind of things," he said, "but I'm happy with the outcome."
Clay talked about three efforts the Police Department enacted to ensure the safety of the downtown areas including the night life detail, the street crime unit and the blue team robbery detail.
Clay explained the night life detail is a program the department put in place in response to the growing night life activity in downtown. The program provides two uniformed officers in downtown from 8:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
Co-owner of Big Daddy's Scott Schmelzel praised the program. "The patrol has been great for downtown night life," he said. "Belleville police has done a great job."
The street crime unit is a two-officer unit in an unmarked car, Clay said, focused on being proactive and looking for weapons, drugs and warrants.
The blue team robbery detail is only in effect during the holiday season from the second weekend in November to the first weekend in January in an effort to curb crime. "It's been very effective for us," Clay said.
Geri Boyer, of Kaskaskia Engineering, praised the police department for its quick response time when there's an incident downtown. "I really appreciate the quick action," she said.
Overall, Clay said crime in Belleville has been consistent over the last decade. Belleville's two highest crimes areas are thefts and burglaries, Clay said.
During the last 12 years on average 64 percent of reported crimes annually have been thefts, Clay said, and 19 percent have been burglaries. Similarly in 2011, the most recent crime data available, 64 percent of reported crimes annually were thefts and 20 percent were burglaries.
"The numbers are pretty much mirroring," Clay said. "The crime in Belleville (now) mirrors the crime in 1999. It's the same. The crime in Belleville is where it is."
"While we have challenges, it's not as crazy as some people make it out to be," Eckert said. "We are not so overrun with crime that we have to be fearful. The statistics don't lie."
Of course, Clay said he would like to see the level of crime decrease and would like to have 150 police officers as opposed to the city's current 82 officers. "But I can't ask you for more officers, because crime is not rampant in Belleville," he said. "No, we are not satisfied. There are still things we can do."
Clay said the police department could drive Belleville's crime rate lower with more officers, more technology and more good policing strategies.
Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.