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Crime-filled summer draws concern from residents

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Chief Mickey Miller addresses a crowd at the Glen Oaks clubhouse on Aug. 10. TENA LEE

Since 2010, the Hendersonville Police Department has hosted community meetings for any HOA or group that requests one.

But following what Chief Mickey Miller has called a "violent" summer that included a drive-by shooting, two car-jackings, an armed robbery of lawn care workers and several car and home burglaries, interest has been greater than ever.

Most recently, about 50 residents of the Walton Ferry and Indian Lake peninsulas filed into Hendersonville High School on Tuesday to hear Miller detail what his officers have been up against the last few months as well as what residents can do to keep themselves safe.

Miller's comments were similar to those made to Ward 6 residents on Aug. 10 at the Glen Oaks clubhouse. Many of those residents attended in response to a drive-by shooting that occurred at the entrance to the Autumn Creek subdivision two weeks earlier. No arrests have been made in that incident in which police say they are working with federal authorities to solve.

Miller attributed the recent spike in crime to juveniles and older teenagers coming to Hendersonville from Metro Nashville to steal from residents here who they consider to be easy prey. Drugs are a main motive, he added.

So far police have arrested 14 teens who range in age from 13 to 19 in connection with the two car- jackings in June and a variety of other crimes. Miller said the problem isn't just unique to Hendersonville.

"It's just all over," he said. "Juveniles are committing more violent crimes. We see it in Nashville every day. We are not immune to the crime that's happening around us."

As of July 31, eight robberies had been reported in the city this year, according to Commander Paul Harbsmeier. Nine had been reported in all of 2016.

Still, with the spike in crime this summer, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation statistics show that crime numbers are down in nearly every major category in Hendersonville since 2001 - the earliest the numbers go back on the TBI's website.

The stats seem to show that keeping crime down has less to do with population growth and more to do with how local departments handle that growth.

In 2001, with an estimated population of 41,694 residents, there were 2,903 total offenses reported in Hendersonville, according to the TBI. In 2016, with an estimated 56,018 people, there were 2,663 offenses reported. In 2016, there were 1,627 total arrests, while in 2001 the arrest total was 1,381. The numbers also showed 12 forcible rapes reported in 2001 compared with two in 2016; 106 aggravated assaults in 2001 compared to 63 in 2016. The number of simple assaults, burglaries, vandalisms and robberies were also higher in 2001 compared to the 2016 numbers. The few categories that saw a rise from 2001 to 2016 were shoplifting (up from 67 to 376) and drug/narcotics violations.

Both Miller - who was hired to lead the Hendersonville department in 2010 after working for 31 years in Metro Nashville - and Harbsmeier, who has been with HPD for more than 30 years, attribute the decline in reportable crimes to the way the department polices now versus 15 years ago.

In a push to be more proactive rather than reactive, the city now has two flex teams of five officers each who patrol targeted areas as crime arises. Police map out where they see crime occurring and tackle it head on, Harbsmeier said. The department has also changed the way the city's criminal investigation division investigates reports of criminal activity.

"We're trying to do smarter policing," Miller added.

And there's been more of a push toward community policing. Residents are encouraged to research crime in their areas by going to crimereports.com on the police department's website. They are also encouraged to sign up for Code Red (also on the city's website) to receive alerts of active investigations in their area.

"We can't do this alone," he tells residents. "We need your eyes and ears. We need you guys to pay attention and let us know what's going on in your neighborhoods."

For his part, Miller said he'll continue to advocate for more police officers and equipment. He says that in 2010 there were 92 sworn officers. That number has increased to 111 with two more officers slated to join the department in January. Still, he says he needs more.

"As the city grows you've got to keep up with the critical needs," he said. "And for so long the department didn't grow like it needed to."

Still, he continues to tell residents that they are the city's greatest crime-fighting assets.

"It's a partnership," he says. "There's no possible way we'll ever have enough police officers to rid this city of crime. We need your help."

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