Lincoln's overall and violent crime rates dropped slightly in 2018, even as felony arrests by the city's police officers surged higher, the police chief said Thursday.
Although Lincoln's population grew by 4,000 to more than 284,000 residents, the number of serious crimes, which police departments track at a national level, fell by 6 percent, according to Lincoln Police Department data.
Chief Jeff Bliemeister attributed the decline in the overall crime rate to a 7 percent drop in thefts that officers think came from a combination of efforts to identify and arrest potential multiple offenders and effective education campaigns to remind people to lock up their possessions.
Felony arrests, Bliemeister believes, continue to rise as a result of the 2009 crime bill, which reclassified some lower level misdemeanor offenses as felonies. That trend is also driven in part by rising drug arrests, which don't factor into the overall serious crime rate.
Among violent crime, rapes increased by 9 percent in 2018, which police attributed partly to more delayed reports prompted by the #MeToo movement. But robberies and aggravated assaults dropped.
Three of the 11 criminal shootings in Lincoln last year resulted in homicides, Bliemeister said.
Two men and two women were killed in four separate homicides in the city that spanned from March to a fatal stabbing on New Year's Eve.
Edgar Union Jr. was fatally shot following a disturbance between feuding gangs in College View in the daylight hours of March 26, police say. The other three homicides were investigated in the Belmont neighborhood. Jessica Brandon was shot in her home July 31 during an attempted drug robbery. Stacy Talbot was shot in a car and dumped in the street Oct. 18. And Dijah Ybarra was stabbed to death Dec. 31.
Suspects were charged in each of the killings, and those prosecutions are pending.
In 2018, police also announced that two investigations from 2017 were believed to have been murders.
Investigators announced their conclusion that Jeanne Jasa was killed by her husband, Jimmy Jasa, in a murder-suicide resulting from a home explosion in August 2017.
That high-profile case is in contrast to the killing of Phillip Madlock, a Lincoln man who was reported missing in July 2017 but whose body has not been found. Two men suspected of beating him to death over a drug debt have entered pleas to assault and weapons charges. One has been sentenced to prison and the other is awaiting sentencing.
Cumulatively, Lincoln's serious crime rate amounted to 3,284 crimes per 100,000 people, a drop from 3,547 the year before and less than half the rate of 7,700 serious crimes per 100,000 people in 1991.
Criminal investigations, however, account for only 8 percent of the workload for Lincoln police, Bliemeister said, and those investigations are becoming more time consuming.
Now ubiquitous among adults and children, cellphones and the data they capture and share are increasingly being recovered by police investigating these crimes, he said.
Juries expect this data in prosecution, but the department lacks the manpower to investigate all the digital information they're collecting, Bliemeister said.
In 2018, police fully examined 531 cellphones, computers and tablets, a 38 percent increase over the prior year, according to the department.
Video analysis continues to increase as well, with officers working over 12 times as many cases involving video last year than they did 10 years ago, department statistics show.
"Although crime is down, the demand on our workforce is not," the chief said.
Last year, Lincoln police investigated nearly as many car crashes, 9,210, as it did serious crimes, 9,350. And mental health investigations continued their upward trend, climbing by 4 percent, according to the statistics.