Chief: Port Arthur crime rates down

Chief Mark Blanton of the Port Arthur Police Department

FBI Part I offenses in 2012 were down by 16 percent in Port Arthur from 2011, according to a report given by Chief Mark Blanton of the Port Arthur Police Department to the Port Arthur City Council on Feb. 5. The FBI designates certain crimes as Part I or index offenses because it considers them to be the major crimes plaguing society in the United States. According to FBI.gov, Part I offenses include criminal homicide, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary (breaking and entering), larceny-theft (except motor vehicle) and motor vehicle theft.

“I’m pleased to report that the crime rate in all categories has come down.” “There were 500 fewer Part I crimes in Port Arthur, which is excellent,” Blanton told the council. 

“Murder is a crime that police departments actually have the least control over,” Blanton said in an interview with The Examiner. “Most of them occur in private homes or places where the police are not at.” Blanton said, however, that the murder rate is down in part because of a lack of drive-by shootings. And like murder, sexual assault fluctuates year to year, according to Blanton. “Other than patrolling in areas where date rate may occur, we don’t have a lot of opportunities to reduce (these crimes),” he said.

Blanton credits a reduction in robberies to measures taken by PAPD. “We put street crimes out there and task forces to apprehend and prosecute robberies,” he said. “Some we caught faced federal charges of possession of a firearm and got lengthy sentences.” PAPD can prevent robberies from occurring by patrolling, monitoring locations and through police intelligence, Blanton said.

The aggravated assault numbers are linked to gang related activity and took a drop because PAPD has taken measures to ensure that more gang members are now in jail, according to Blanton.

While the number in these categories of burglaries, auto thefts and larcenies was down, Blanton expressed concern that stores are not reporting all cases of shoplifting due to store policy changes. “If shoplifting is not reported to us, it’s not going to appear on the statistics,” he said. “Some of these stores may have changed policies where they aren’t going to stop (shoplifters) at the door unless they are absolutely positive theft is occurring.” Blanton said that he would continue to investigate this possibility and how it may affect the theft numbers reported in the future.

In addition to a reduction in Part 1 offenses, calls for service were down in 2012. Blanton reported 2,757 fewer calls for service than in 2011. There were also fewer traffic offenses, which include reports of erratic driving.

Traffic offenses and accidents

Although there are fewer traffic offenses, the number of traffic accidents rose in 2012, the chief said. “In 2011, Port Arthur set a record,” he said. “Only four people were killed in traffic accidents in Port Arthur — the lowest level since 1972. Unfortunately, that level rose in 2012 back to nine.” Four of the nine killed were visiting workers and one died of a heart attack prior to wrecking his vehicle, Blanton said. The number of accidents also increased from 1,553 in 2011 to 1,679 in 2012. Blanton credited the increase to an issue PAPD is having with drugged drivers. 

“We make more arrests for DUI — driving under the influence of drugs — than we do for alcohol,” Blanton told the council. PAPD assigned a Drug Recognition Expert officer for DUI enforcement in January 2012. He was sent to special schools for drug recognition and special training, Blanton said. “There are only two DREs in the county; Beaumont has one and we have one,” Blanton said. The DRE can obtain a search warrant and order a blood test. 

“Breath tests do not detect drugs,” Blanton said. “Only a blood test will detect drugs.” According to Blanton, the Port Arthur DRE has been successful. “This single officer made 152 DUI arrests by himself in 2012,” he said. “We have a serious problem with people driving under the influence of pills, including Xanax, Ecstasy and other street-level drugs.”

Racial profiling

Blanton also read the results of a racial profiling report to City Council. The report is automated and is based on data reported from check-off boxes on citations. “We conducted 19 searches out of 10,929 stops,” Blanton said. “Fourteen of those searches were consented and five were not.” There have been two complaints of racial profiling in the last 17 years — one was disproven and the other was withdrawn by the complainant, according to Blanton. 

“We do tend to stop a higher percentage of Caucasians than is based on the population here,” he said. “A lot of that is because visiting workers are being stopped.”

In addition to crediting the efforts of his officers for the reduction in crime, Blanton praised the Port Arthur City Council for their support.

“A couple of years ago, they gave me forensic technicians,” he said. “Used to, we had an officer carry a fingerprint kit and try to get fingerprints. Now we train people to do that, and we’re making arrests for burglary and have reduced it.”

Blanton said he hopes PAPD can continue to aid in lowering Port Arthur’s crime rate and will remain vigilant.

“We’re going to continue our efforts to bring crime down further,” Blanton said.

“The police department is doing a good job,” said Willie “Bae” Lewis Jr., Port Arthur District 5 City Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem. “They’ve been able to do it by enforcing the law, through good investigation and by working together with the city council, the sheriff’s department and the constables.”

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