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Photo by Sarah Finnegan.
Sgt. Matt Savage checks information on a computer in his vehicle.
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Photo by Sarah Finnegan.
Hoover Detective Courtney Pittman and Lt. Keith Czeskleba scroll through the Hoover Police Department Facebook page while at work. The Hoover Police Department has made use of social media to reach the public more effectively when looking for unidentified suspects.
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Hoover started 2016 with a high-profile homicide in Lake Cyrus that rocked the community, but the year as a whole saw a 6 percent drop in crime, Police Department statistics show.
The Jan. 5, 2016, fatal shooting of Lake Cyrus resident Mike Gilotti in front of his home got many residents talking about beefing up home and neighborhood security measures and helped prompt city officials to hire 10 more patrol officers.
Hoover partnered with other agencies to quickly get leads on the four suspects in Gilotti’s killing and in less than three months had all four teenagers in jail and charged with murder.
By the end of the year, the total number of crimes reported in Hoover had fallen from 5,085 in 2015 to 4,799 for 2016.
That included three homicides in 2016, compared to five the year before.
Police were particularly pleased to see only 41 robberies in Hoover in 2016. That was down 20 percent from 2015 and was the second lowest number of robberies since 2001, Capt. Gregg Rector said.
Of those 41 robberies, nine were actually shoplifting cases that technically turned into robberies when the shoplifter struggled with someone trying to get away, Rector said. Twenty-seven were more typical robberies of individuals, and five were robberies of businesses, Rector said. There were no bank robberies in Hoover in 2016, he said.
Police Chief Nick Derzis said having only 41 robberies is remarkable for a city with more than 87,000 residents. And while the typical police department nationally solves 30 to 35 percent of its robberies, Hoover police cleared 71 percent of their robberies with arrests, Derzis said.
The chief said he likes to think that the department’s reputation for aggressively going after criminals deters some of them from coming to Hoover in the first place.
“We have had a great reputation of being able to solve crimes,” he said.
That’s a combination of work by a lot of people, including patrol officers, detectives and crime scene technicians, Rector said. “We process a lot of crime scenes that other departments would never bother,” he said.
Derzis said there’s no magic formula to solving crimes, but “our people do a heck of a job. We’re fortunate to have some great people.”
He also thanked Hoover’s elected officials for providing the manpower and equipment needed to solve crimes, including fingerprint technology that allows for quick ID checks. In years past, Hoover police would have to send their fingerprint results to Jefferson County, Birmingham or the state for processing and sometimes would have prolonged waits to get answers, Derzis said. Now, they get results much quicker, he said.
Hoover did have a 5 percent increase in assaults in 2016 to 857, but forcible sex offenses were down 6 percent to 45 cases, records show. There were four reported kidnappings — the same as in 2015. Domestic violence offenses (included in the assault numbers) were up 3 percent to 559, but the total number of domestic calls was down 5 percent to 984 calls.
Hoover police also were pleased to see a decrease in several property crimes. Burglaries were down 28 percent to 226; motor vehicle thefts were down 2 percent to 102, and other thefts were down 11 percent to 1,974, records show.
There was a 32 percent increase in forgery cases to 100, but fraud offenses fell 12 percent to 424, and embezzlement cases dropped 8 percent to 76.
Weapons violations were up 34 percent to 63, and vandalism was up 5 percent to 252 cases. The number of prostitution cases dropped from 15 to three, but that likely was because there was only one prostitution sting in 2016, compared to two or three in 2015, Rector said. It would be nice if they could do those stings once a month, but manpower is limited, he said.
The number of drug offenses in Hoover increased 7 percent in 2016 to 583. That included 215 marijuana possession cases, 180 drug equipment violations, 167 cases of possession of a controlled substance, 10 drug distribution cases, five drug trafficking cases, four attempts to commit a controlled substance crime and two cases of manufacturing a controlled substance.
Other than marijuana, the biggest problem drugs are heroin and Fentanyl, which is a painkiller, Rector said. The number of drug deaths in Hoover leveled off somewhat at 12 in 2016, and all were either related to heroin, Fentanyl or a combination of the two, Rector said.
However, the number of drug overdoses doubled to 52, he said. That means there are more abusers, but the Fire Department is saving more of their lives, sometimes saving the same person more than once in the same day, he said.
The offenders are all ages, but most commonly are in their 20s and 30s, Rector said. Hoover police just entered a new effort with the Shelby County district attorney’s office and several other Shelby County law enforcement agencies to try different strategies to help people break their drug habits, Derzis said.
In addition to the Gilotti case, there were two other homicides in Hoover in 2016:
► Authorities in March 2016 charged 29-year-old Christopher Ammons Kemp of Center Point with capital murder, saying he killed the unborn child of a 28-year-old woman with whom he had a relationship when he attacked and beat the woman viciously at a residence on Larkspur Drive.
► A 45-year-old Hoover man shot and killed his stepdaughter’s 24-year-old boyfriend, Howard Marquise Anthony, after the two got into an argument at the Ashby Apartments in Ross Bridge in November. No charges were filed, but the case was taken to a grand jury to consider the evidence.
Hoover had at least three more people charged with attempted murder in 2016.
In January 2016, 59-year-old Mark Roland Ritchie was charged with attempted murder after police said he, under the influence of alcohol, intentionally struck a 34-year-old pedestrian with his vehicle.
Then in September, two 19-year-olds — Chauncey Marcel Holman and Anthony Rudolfo Major Jr. — each were charged with two counts of attempted murder following a shooting at The Park at Hoover apartment complex on Rime Village Drive. The suspects reportedly shot at two other people following a fight, prompting return gunfire from the victims, police said.
In that case, police said testimony from eyewitnesses proved helpful in obtaining charges, and police noted Hoover residents tend not to tolerate such reckless behavior in their community.
Support from the community is a key component in solving crimes, Rector said. Hoover police don’t see a lot of people scared to come forward to report crimes, he said.
“I hope that’s because we’ve earned their trust,” he said.
Derzis said he is amazed at how many crimes get solved with the help of social media.
“If someone would have told me we’d be solving crimes by using something called Facebook 10 years ago, I would have thought they were nuts,” Derzis said.
But word spreads so quickly on social media, he said.
“We’ve had suspects named within five minutes of posts,” he said. “It is intriguing to me how many people on social media know these people.”
By sharing pictures through traditional media and social media, Hoover police are able to identify more than 90 percent of their unknown suspects, Rector said. “The community actually cares, and that’s a wonderful feeling,” he said.
Derzis said 2016 was a rough year for law enforcement officers across the nation, but he’s never seen so much support for the Hoover Police Department by the community here.
Parents have brought their children by the Police Department to thank officers for their service, Derzis said. Other people have dropped off food or even brought their grills and cooked for officers at the operations center.
“This outpouring of support doesn’t happen in every city of America,” Derzis said. “Without the community, a police department has a very tough road.”