Over the last three years the amount of crime is Bethlehem has declined sharply as well as crime across the nation. As business on the South Side is growing, officials says crime rates will keep declining. (Jake Epstein/B&W Staff)

Crime in Bethlehem on the decline over the years

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Pulling off to the side of the road, cars stop momentarily to allow for the wails of a police siren, accompanying the speeding cruiser as it barrels down the road. Moments later, an ambulance. After that, a fire truck.

This is a familiar sight for Americans. Some bear witness to the horrors and sadness of crime, perhaps as an onlooker or relative of someone affected. Others see the urgency from a police cruiser as it bolts through dense traffic, giving crime a faceless entity, wondering where the officer is going, what is happening and whether or not someone’s life is at stake.

The reality, however, is not as grim as it may seem. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, incidents of violent crime, which includes murder, rape, robbery and assault, decreased from 1998 to 2017, despite a population increase of over 55 million people throughout that same time.

While incidents of violent crime declined by about 300,000 incidents, property crime, which includes burglary, theft, vehicle theft and arson, declined by over 3 million incidents. Overall, crime across the country has gone down.

This trend is evident in Bethlehem, where the number of known violent and property crime incidents have declined sharply over the last three years, according to a report titled “Policing in the City of Bethlehem,” by Bethlehem Police Chief Mark DiLuzio.

In 2016, there were 2,109 incidents, while 2017 saw 1,985 incidents and 2018 saw 1,517 incidents. Only robbery, assault and rape saw a slight rise in frequency in 2017, while all other categories experienced a decline from 2016-2017 and 2017-2018.

“Statistically, it has gone down, which is good, but overall crime across the nation statistically has gone down,” DiLuzio said. “I’m talking violent crime; part one offenses, which are your murders, rape, robbery, burglary, theft and a couple more other major crimes.

DiLuzio said this number might have decreased due to the city’s economy. 

According to the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, the Lehigh Valley’s GDP reached a record high $40.1 billion, excluding government spending, in 2017, a 5% increase from 2016.

This figure puts the Lehigh Valley ahead of the entire state of Wyoming, Vermont and 112 countries.   

“When the economy is bad, crime is bad. When the economy is good, crime stops. It’s logical,” DiLuzio said.

DiLuzio said he sees crime going down in the future, as business on the South Side continues to boom.

He said it will only create more jobs and bring more people to the area and believes it will take away the opportunity for crime.

“Crime is an animal of opportunity,” he said. “Plus, the more people there are, the less likely you are to see crime.”

Michelle Kott, captain of the Bethlehem Police Department’s Professional Standards Division, has been with the Bethlehem Police for 15 years and said crime has remained relatively stagnant, without any major influx throughout her career.

She said she finds Bethlehem’s geographic location interesting, with crime varying with the seasonal change. She said more violent crimes like murders and assaults tend to occur during the warmer months when people spend more time outside.

“Crime, much like anything else, is seasonal,” Kott said. “What you’ll find, especially if you’re able to dig into the numbers, is that crime kind of subsides during the winter, cooler months.”

Jeff Vaclavik owns Deja Brew Coffeehouse & Deli on the South Side. Next month will be his 24th year living in the area, which he said used to be unjustly referred to as not a great part of town.

Vaclavik has noticed minor incidents like the occasional break-ins, but for an urban area, he said it’s a safe area. He has never thought of his community as a “bad” part of town.

“There hasn’t really been all that much crime in the South Side over the years,” Vaclavik said.

Eugenia Abrau and Daniel González, both in their mid-50s, are residents of the South Side. Abrau works at Sabor Dominicano de Lulu, a Dominican restaurant on Broadway Street, and González occasionally helps her carry out daily tasks.

González has lived in Bethlehem his entire life, while Abrau came to the city 19 years ago. Both said they feel safe and praise police efforts for keeping crime low.

“We got the good security here with the police department,” González said. “You call, they come quick.”

Kott believes the Bethlehem Police are lucky to have a good relationship with the community. She recalled being on a foot chase with a suspect where residents would continuously phone-in to inform the police of any sightings.

Of course, she said there are times when people will make complaints against officers, which she acknowledges will happen anywhere.

“I truly believe the reason why were able to have such a safe city is because of the cooperation and the give-and-take we have with our citizens,” Kott said.

Kott said she is hopeful that society can become less aggressive and violent in general and would love to see the relationship between police departments and citizens improve.

She said in a perfect society, there would be no crime, though she is doubtful that would ever happen.

“I hope everyone feels safe here,” Kott said. “I want people to come to Bethlehem, not only to go to school, but to work, to visit our Main Street, to visit the South Side business district. So I really hope they feel safe.”

She said the flow of crime seems to have gone back down again, citing that violent crime has been down substantially than it was in previous years.

DiLuzio also thinks crime in Bethlehem was busier years ago than it is now, and though there are still major incidents, he said those will happen anywhere.

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