Public Safety

2018 stats show spikes in burglaries and drug violations in Johnson County

The Johnson County Jail in Iowa City. (Gazette file photo)
The Johnson County Jail in Iowa City. (Gazette file photo)

Johnson County saw notable upticks in burglaries and drug violations in 2018, while other crimes statistics held steady or saw slight fluctuations, data released by the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office on Friday show.

The sheriff’s office annual report shows deputies investigated 130 burglaries in 2018, a notable jump from 118 cases reported in 2017 and 68 reported the year before.

Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek said most were car break-ins.

“A lot of people when they think of car break-ins, they think of thefts, but they are actually burglaries,” he said.

The sheriff said there were a few communities that saw a rash of car burglaries, but he declined to name specific towns.

The crime statistics in the sheriff’s annual report only include the department’s jurisdiction and do not include numbers from city law enforcement agencies, including Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty. Cities have not released their annual reports for 2018.

Fluctuations in crime numbers are normal, he said. In the three years previous to 2016, he said the sheriff’s office saw a slight but steady decline in burglaries, only to see the numbers rise again in recent years.

“I can’t really offer an explanation for the increase,” he said. “You know, we have a transient population in Johnson County — the population turns over about every four or five years. And that’s not just due to the university and the student population, there are a lot of professional populations that move around a lot with their jobs, too, and as the population changes, so do our numbers.”

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Another significant spike was seen in drug violations. The sheriff’s office reported 174 drug violations in 2018, a significant jump from 139 in 2017 and 110 the year before.

Drug violations have steadily been on the rise both in Iowa and on a national level, Pulkrabek said, and Johnson County is no different.

“Illegal drugs are still a big problem,” he said. “Our drug task force is busy. And I’m not just talking about marijuana — heroin and methamphetamine are still big problems in this area.”

Pulkrabek noted that the number of homicides in Johnson County has stayed at zero for the past three years.

“Zero murders in 2016, 2017 and 2018 — I’ll take that any day,” he said. “And, knock on wood, we’ll hopefully see that trend continue.”

The Johnson County statistics do not include homicides in Iowa City, where there were four homicides in 2017 and none in 2016 or 2018.

As for traffic-related enforcement, Pulkrabek said there were two increases that stood out: Seat belt violations and citations for texting while driving.

Seat belt violations jumped from 102 in 2016 to 173 in 2018. The sheriff said the increase was likely due to grant money the department received for targeted enforcement.

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“You’d be surprised how many people still don’t use their seat belts,” he said. “And over the past few years, the state has really pushed to drive up seat belt usage. We’d like to see that usage get up to 97, 98, 99 percent of drivers, so these grants allow for specialized overtime for focused enforcement.”

Texting while driving citations rose from just seven in 2016 to 81 in 2018. There were 19 citations issued in 2017.

The sheriff attributed that spike to many factors, including a change in Iowa law and officers paying closer attention to what drivers are doing behind the wheel.

“Texting while driving is so unsafe, and drivers are still doing it all the time,” he said. “So I think we are seeing a lot more public outcry for law enforcement to focus more on that behavior.”

Overall, Pulkrabek said none of the stats were alarming. Some of the spikes are easily preventable, he said — such as vehicle burglaries — adding that if drivers were careful to lock their vehicles and take valuables inside, there would be fewer burglaries.

“I’d say Johnson County is a safe area, overall,” he said. “A lot of the incidents we see could be easily preventable if members of the community practiced being good neighbors, keeping an eye out in their neighborhoods, and exercised more responsibility for their vehicles and their belongings. A few simple behaviors can make a significant difference in the crimes we see in our area.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

Clarification: Johnson County Sheriff’s Office crime statistics do not include numbers from city law enforcement agencies. The statistics only refer to the sheriff’s office jurisdiction, which generally covers rural communities. This story was updated on Feb. 25, 2019, to clarify that information.

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