AMES, Iowa - Violent crime rates are taking a nosedive across the nation, according to a data from the FBI, and Ames is one city topping the list.
Data from the FBI's Uniform Crime Report analyzed by 24/7 Wall St. shows violent crime fell to 355.5 incidents per 100,000 residents - the lowest it's been in decades. Violent crime peaked in the 1990s, but has steadily declined over the past 20 years. The data analyzed looks at a five-year span, from 2010 to 2014, and ranks Dubuque and Ames as the #1 and #2 cities in the U.S. where crime has plummeted the most.
In Dubuque, the five-year decrease in violent crime is 58 percent; Ames boasts a 56 percent drop in violent crime over that same five-year period. Officials with the Ames Police Department say having a low violent crime rate has helped officers focus energy on proactive measures to keep it that way.
"One of the tenants we have here at the police department is problem solving and relationship building," said Commander Jason Tuttle with Ames PD. "And so, when we can do that, and we have the time to do that, we can get into the neighborhoods, work with some of the community leaders, work with some of the neighborhood association leaders on trying to solve specific problems in our neighborhoods. And when we do that, we're working side by side with them to work through those issues, rather than policing over them and having more of a confrontational relationship with those citizens."
There was only one homicide reported in Ames in the five-year span of the study, with zero homicides from 2012-2014. Police say the study doesn't include 2015 data, where the city had just one homicide - classified as "justifiable" due to self-defense.
"I've lived here for 30 years in the same neighborhood, and generally I would say I've never had the perception that violent crime was ever a problem," said Debbie Lee, leader of the Oak to Riverside Neighborhood Association in Ames.
Lee credits the police department for being proactive, by forming close relationships with the city's neighborhood associations.
"Progress doesn't happen in a vacuum, and I would really credit - Ames has been fortunate to have an exceptional police chief who has been willing to be creative and try different approaches," Lee said.
Those different approaches include training landlords to keep crime out of their apartments, meeting with students every fall at Iowa State University, and providing resource officers to neighborhoods.
"I credit this very much to the leadership in the police department, that has - on the area of violent crime, on the area of mental health, on the area of alcohol abuse, on the areas of racial relations - been working very hard on being a proactive rather than a reactive situation," said Ames Mayor Ann Campbell.
Comm. Tuttle says it's a cycle: if you have a low violent crime rate, you can focus your energy on preventative measures to keep it that way.
"We don't pay a great amount of attention to these reports because we're working daily to build those relationships, and educate people in our community on how to have those safe neighborhoods," he said.
While violent crime is down in Ames - and especially in the category of homicides - it should be noted Ames' sexual assault rate was higher in the study's span than the national average. Ames officials note, however, the rate over the five-year span of the study is lower than it was for the city in the late 2000s.