Having covered crime in Storm Lake for a long time, it would be hard not to draw some general observations after a while.
One, crime is not what most people think it is, at least it isn't here.
When you think of crime, what comes to mind? Murder or serial rape or kidnapping? Gang drive-bys? Armed robbery knocking over liquor and convenience stores? Jacking cars? Racial hate attacks?
None of that happens here, or at least it happens so very seldom that there is no statistical pattern to follow.
Our fears of crime are largely fears of the unknown, the random. A stranger will appear out of the shadows and stick a gun in our ribs and demand our money, or worse.
That sort of thing can happen anywhere, of course, but that really isn't the sort of crime that Storm Lake has.
What I see in crime in our town, over and over and over, is people basically victimizing themselves.
Violence, in an overwhelming number of cases, involves assailants and victims who know each other. More often than not, it is within the family unit.
A wife and a husband. A parent and a child. Brothers (the case in the last murder I recall here, years ago now). And often, ex-lovers. Just about every Monday morning, I can count on an incident like that being on my desk and somebody sitting in county lockdown wondering what happened to their life.
It certainly is not a case of one race, religion, or socio-economic group targeting or clashing with another. Almost without fail, it is someone within a particular group acting against a person or persons within that same group. Again, they are basically victimizing themselves and their own. And frankly, people are not hard to catch in those incidents, because the victims almost always know their assailant, robber, or whatever.
The sad news here is that all of these kind of crimes are preventable. The good news is, they really are preventable.
They are crimes of stress and heartache that boil over into confrontation and too often violence.
It really doesn't need to be that way. There is nothing, ever to gain from taking your hands to someone you love or at least cared about at some point. This isn't TV or a movie or a rap song or a video game - if you hurt someone, there will be real consequences for years and years to come.
And believe it or not, threatening to harm someone is just as against the law as doing it. We've seen several of those threat cases of late. Threatening to kill, threatening to use a weapon, threatening to burn a house.
Chances are, those people never intended to do the harm they threatened. So why would you make such a threat?
The onset of social media raises new possibilities for threats and harassment.
If I had to venture a guess, I'd bet that a huge majority of the domestic clash cases we see involve alcohol abuse. A fair number of the rest, perhaps narcotics, prescription drug abuse, perhaps some untreated mental health issues.
Somewhere along the line, though, we must have failed to teach people how to deal with inevitable anguish, anxiety and disharmony.
We haven't gotten through to people that the answer to their problems isn't in their fists, the bottom of a bottle, in over-medicating themselves, in harassing someone else they blame for their own troubles.
Every one of these domestic crimes could be avoided. There is such a thing as communication, and if that fails, going separate ways at least until things cool down. In the event of conflict, it is better to call in police for help before things get out of hand, than expecting them to come in and clean up the bloodshed afterward. By the time it gets physical, it is too late for victim and perpetrator to walk away and ever be the same.
Above all things, we would benefit as a community and a society if we could only share the simple realization that harming someone else is not a solution.
Fetching a butcher knife from the kitchen to wave around is not an answer for a family disagreement. A broken heart over being left by a lover is not made whole by kicking down her door or punching a hole through a wall. Children who act out are not made better behaved by whipping them with a belt or a wire hanger, yet we see such cases repeatedly, everywhere.
Storm Lake crime is handled honestly and openly, and with a zero tolerance approach, so maybe that makes it look like we have more than other places. In reality, pouring through the statistics year after year, the most dangerous kinds of crime are very rare here, and amid the other categories, it seems to me that numbers go down from year to year in as many or more categories as they go up. Assault, vandalism, fights, harassments, drug cases, all solidly down in 2015. Adult arrests down substantially in six of the past seven years.
There's no making rhyme or reason out of crime statistics. There will always be people who take advantage of others, people who cheat and steal for profit, everywhere. That's explainable.
The crimes we see most often are those of emotion. Harder to get a get a grip on. But there are alternatives.