Salem PD was busy during 2013

SALEM – Police Chief J.T. Panezott issued a warning his first day on the job last February about plans to step up traffic enforcement, go after drugs and aggressively enforce all laws.

The numbers in the department’s 2013 activity report reflect exactly that – domestic violence arrests up, drunk driving and drug arrests up and traffic enforcement way, way up.

A number he didn’t expect to increase was the number of murders, but that’s the one number he can’t explain.

“I don’t pretend to know the answers as to why people are killing each other,” he said.

The department investigated four murders and one suspicious death that remains under investigation, with at least three of the cases stemming from domestic violence and one drug-related. The report only shows three arrests because one of the attackers killed himself after killing his estranged girlfriend in the Walmart parking lot last September.

The first murder occurred in June when an Oak Street resident was allegedly killed by her on-again, off-again boyfriend whose case remains pending. Then there was the murder-suicide at Walmart, followed by the stabbing death of a bar bouncer on South Broadway Avenue. The case against his alleged attacker also remains pending.

The last murder was brother against brother at a home on Walnut Street. A gun was used and investigators said the incident was drug-related. The court case remains pending.

Panezott said it’s sad how people deal with their problems today. When he first started as a patrolman, people were fist-fighting in the street. Now there are guns and knives and a deterioration of society as a whole.

On the police department’s Facebook page, people have talked about what’s happening in the city and comparing it to Youngstown or other larger cities saddled with crime. When it comes to the incidents in Salem, Panezott said “this isn’t people being shot in streets. It’s not drive-by shootings where specific people are targeted.”

Most domestic violence incidents happen behind closed doors and police don’t get called until after the fact. In 2013, the number of domestic violence arrests increased to 37 from 21 in 2012. The number of incidents reported as domestic disputes also increased from 339 to 348.

“We go to a domestic and there’s any sign of violence, somebody’s going to jail,” he said.

In the area of drugs, the number of arrests for drug paraphernalia and drug instruments more than doubled from 10 to 23. The numbers for drug possession arrests and drug trafficking were down, but Panezott explained that many of those cases went straight to grand jury for indictments.

The drug-related felony indictments for Salem included four counts illegal manufacture of drugs (related to the meth labs uncovered last year), two counts possession of chemicals to manufacture drugs, 34 counts possession of drugs and 17 counts trafficking in drugs.

The number of incidents for narcotics increased from 31 to 49.

He said they even had two local prostitutes arrested as part of an investigation with Alliance Police, which he attributed to drugs. He blamed a large increase in the number of theft offenses, from 28 to 66, to drugs.

Panezott credited the aggressive traffic enforcement with some of the increases in drug arrests, along with increases in the number of custodial arrests, the number of warrant and indictment arrests, drunk driving citations, driving under suspension citations and a tripling of the arrests for speeding.

The total number of charges filed, both custodial and traffic, increased from 1111 in 2012 to 1,840 in 2013. Out of those, the number of persons arrested and cited increased from 789 to 1,347. The number of custodial arrests, where people were taken into custody, increased from 386 to 515.

Panezott pointed out they had not had those type of numbers for custodial arrests since 2008 when they had 23 officers. The department currently has 20 officers.

The total number of traffic offenses more than doubled, from 576 in 2012 to 1,145 in 2013. Drunk driving charges increased from 49 to 87. Driving under suspension increased from 44 to 102. Speeding increased from 90 to 308. Traffic light violations increased from 14 to 68. Open container charges increased from 6 to 33. Possession of marijuana increased from 15 to 38.

Panezott said he attributed all the traffic-related increases to “going out there and trying to take the streets back. We have a lot more contact with people.”

He also defended the speeding citations, saying he doesn’t want anyone to ever claim there’s a speed trap in Salem since most of those citations were for more than 15 miles over the speed limit. His officers give a lot of warnings. By stopping those cars, the officers are having contact with the people inside. They’re checking for warrants, finding drugs and getting drunks off the city streets.

“Every one of these guys cares about the community they work in – they don’t like bad press for our town and they’re trying to clean it up,” Panezott said. “There’s a lot more good people in this town than there are bad. We don’t have any tolerance for the bad ones.”

He’s happy with the results and with how the officers have stepped up. He wants them to be aggressive and active and he’ll back them all the way.

For this year, he wants to see the numbers go down, hopefully because people are slowing down and paying closer attention to their driving. He wants to see domestic violence calls go down and the number of murders return to zero.

The public can play a part by calling police when they see something happening. Writing about something on Facebook after the fact doesn’t help.

“We need to know what’s happening as it’s happening,” he said.