If the calls for service listed in the daily police report seem at all elevated over previous years, according to Junction City Police Chief John Lamb, it is because of an increase in traffic stops.
According to Lamb, traffic stops are up by about 500 over the previous year in December and January. However, he said, in January of 2019 there were 31 percent more arrests than January of this year. Last month, the Junction City Police Department arrested 127 people, over 158 last year.
There have been 2439 calls for service this year, in comparison to 1911 last year, Lamb said. The number of crashes have gone down as well in 2020 over 2019, he said, which he believes may owe itself to the increased number of traffic stops.
A call for service, Lamb said, does not necessarily indicate criminal activity in the traditional sense. So calls for service — which are recorded every time an officer pulls someone over or when a member of the public calls in for help — may have increased, but may not indicate an increase in crime.
“In the winter months when it kind of gets — I don’t want to say slow — but the criminal element’s not out and about, because it’s cold, officers — who we encourage and want to be proactive — are out there doing traffic stops,” he said. “They’re doing property checks, they’re doing traffic stops, they’re doing a lot of on-view activity to stay busy, which is important.”
This increase in traffic stops, Lamb said, is not due to any directive by the Junction City Police Department administration.
“We’re a young police department — I mean a good number of officers on this agency are young,” he said.
According to Lamb, the JCPD has a new energy in it because of new leadership. He came on toward the end of 2019 and Capt. Kirt Nichols, who had served as interim chief of police before Lamb arrived, took on a new leadership role as well when he was promoted to Operations Captain.
“So the officers are feeling — I’ll say motivated,” Lamb said. “They’ve always been motivated, but you know, they said they’re excited with the changes that are coming down.”
Going forward, Lamb said, he does intend to have increased patrolling in what he calls high frequency crash intersections. Junction City has a number of intersections, he said, where wrecks have often taken place in the past. Lamb said he would like to take measures to prevent future crashes in those areas by looking at engineering, education, and enforcement.
He said the JCPD would look at the engineering of such intersections — such as blind spots, lack of signage, and similar problems — to see what might help stop future wrecks.
“Then we look at the education piece,” Lamb said. “Are the people who were utilizing and making violations in that intersection are they aware of the laws that they’re breaking?”
Lastly, he said, he hopes to increase officer presence in such spots in the community to make sure traffic laws are being enforced by stopping people who break them.
This discussion, he said, has not taken place yet.
Traffic enforcement, Lamb said, can lead officers to discovering other things such as drunk drivers, drugs, warrants, and guns.
“I don’t like officers to write tickets just to write tickets. It’s not a revenue stream,” Lamb said. “We don’t have quotas ... We do look for productivity of officers. But one thing I like to do is, I like to build off an officer’s strength. If an officer loves doing traffic enforcement, I’m going to encourage them to do traffic enforcement. If you have another officer who really loves community engagement, my goal is to send them to the community engagement piece. And if another officer likes doing narcotics investigations, obviously we’re going to let them do that. So let them work off their strengths and go with that.”
Whatever local officers choose to do, it’s not about enforcement in a bubble, either.
Community crime trends, he said, tend to follow national ones. If crime increases statistically around the country, it will increase in local communities as well. The goal, Lamb said, is to find out what causes increases locally and deal with it.
In Junction City’s case, location plays a factor, he said, because it’s along I-70, which has served as a corridor for human trafficking, drugs, and theft.
“We were just talking to (the) KBI about working together on addressing crime along the I-70 corridor that we’re experiencing all the way from Colorado to Missouri,” Lamb said. “Communities being victimized by people who are utilizing that corridor as transportation — (I’m) not talking about drugs, I’m talking about property crimes. (People) drive into Junction City from Kansas City to break into a bunch of our cars and then using that corridor to go back home.”
This happens in communities all along I-70, with people traveling from town to town.
It’s a many-faceted problem, especially when it comes to drugs, according to Lamb.
“It’s not all about arresting our way out of the problem,” he said.