Whitehall police credit a team effort among officers, civilian staff and residents for the recent reduction in crime -- most notably, the absence of homicides in Whitehall last year.

No homicides occurred in Whitehall in 2017, a year in which Columbus police investigated 143 slayings -- a number that surpassed the city's previous record-high 139 killings in 1991.

The last homicide in Whitehall was in April 2016, that year's second homicide.

There were nine homicides in Whitehall in 2015.

2017 is the first homicide-free year in the city since 2005, police said.

"We are thankful we have not had any homicides lately, but we understand we are not immune," Whitehall Deputy Chief Tracy Sharpless said.

While Sharpless credits the department's meticulously crafted three-year strategic plan with reducing crimes such as drug trafficking, thus cutting down ancillary crimes that can lead to shootings, he acknowledges luck as a factor as well.

"Sometimes such statistics are much luck as anything," he said. "Any number of the homicides that have taken place in Columbus could have easily occurred in a neighboring city."

Whitehall is surrounded by Columbus, and many of Columbus' 2017 homicides were near Whitehall's city limits.

"The Columbus Police Department is a great department (and has plans) to address crime," Sharpless said.

Whitehall isn't doing anything that other departments are not, "(but) what we are doing is a better job of identifying and focusing on what we have going on locally," Sharpless said.

"Our officers and employees are invested in a plan that they helped create, and so far it has been paying off with reduced crime."

The strategic plan was developed with "considerable input" from all quarters of the department and implemented in January 2017, Sharpless said.

Staff and supervisors met at a two-day conference to finalize objectives and strategies.

"Our goals include developing organizational excellence; to reduce, solve and prevent crime; (and) improve the quality of life in Whitehall," Sharpless said.

Based on these goals, objectives were set to achieve them, Sharpless said, such as a crime analyst identifying where and when certain incidents often occurred, from traffic crashes to drug-related activity.

"Since our goals are specific and measurable, we can clearly identify what impact our officers are having in different areas," he said.

Whitehall police conducted quarterly blitzes last year, aimed at drug-related crimes and retail thefts.

"These blitzes are basically zero-tolerance enforcement efforts," Sharpless said, in some instances in collaboration with other agencies "as a force multiplier."

The strategic plan also focuses on proactive policing, described by Sharpless as the use of unobligated time to further the goals of the strategic plan.

"We have stressed that even if (officers) are in fact working, unless they are employing one of our strategies and attacking one of our objectives, they are not really doing us any good. Identifying appropriate use of unobligated time has been key (to the success of the plan)," Sharpless said.

In its continuing effort to reduce crime, Whitehall police will continue to marshal the help of residents in 2018 through its town-hall meetings.

Two town-hall meetings were held in 2017.

Another is scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 15 at New Life Church, 441 S. Yearling Road.

The meetings, part of the Safer Whitehall initiative, are a critical part of the strategic plan, said police Chief Mike Crispen.

"The town-hall meetings provide a platform to educate the community on exactly how they can help," Crispen said.

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