MT. JULIET, Tenn. (WKRN) — After being pulled over in a recent stop through the police department’s Automated License Plate Recognition system, a passenger turned toward the officer and said, “I told him not to go to Mt. Juliet.”
“That wasn’t the first time that we heard it,” said Mt. Juliet Police Chief James Hambrick.
Since its inception in 2020, the ALPR program, known as Guardian Shield, has assisted Mt. Juliet police in numerous arrests, and Hambrick believes it may be a big part of why overall crime is decreasing in the city.
Based on 2021 crime statistics finalized by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Mt. Juliet’s crime rate is 50.06 cases per 1,000 people, which is a 6.48% drop from 2020. Overall, there were 57 less crimes reported in the city — a 2.75% decrease from the previous year.
“We’re just blessed that the numbers are down in these times, because it’s been some critical times in our nation with the things that are going on,” Hambrick said. “To see these numbers where they are now is encouraging, and we want to continue to build on those.”
Nearly every category of crime in Mt. Juliet decreased last year, with exception to drug violations, stolen property offenses and intimidation — most of which Hambrick said can be attributed to use of the ALPR program and officers’ proactivity.
“Those are crimes that our officers are proactive in finding,” he said. “Because of that, even though our crime, we can see that it’s dropped, those reported numbers continually make it higher than if those weren’t reported.”
The ALPR system sends out an alert when a vehicle linked to a crime in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database passes by one of 50 cameras in the city. Wanted and missing persons, felony-involved vehicles, stolen vehicles and plates are entered into NCIC.
The majority of alerts in Mt. Juliet are for stolen cars and plates. As a result, stolen property offenses rose 11% last year, which is the highest ever reported in the city. Additionally, Hambrick said other criminal elements are often discovered after a vehicle is stopped.
“What we’ve seen out of those calls, that has been a nexus to drugs, guns, different weapons and things like that,” Hambrick said. “Before the LPRs it was happening, it just wasn’t being identified to the scope that it is now with the assistance of this technology.”
Wanted persons, drug activity and driver’s license violations were some of the most commonly associated crimes in vehicle stops. According to TBI data, drug violations, drug equipment violations and weapon law violations in Mt. Juliet rose 21% in 2021.
Hambrick said those crimes contribute to 47% of the city’s crime rate, and most people arrested are not city residents. A large amount of people arrested are from Nashville as the city borders one of Nashville’s higher crime areas.
All other categories saw fairly significant drops. Crimes against persons, which includes offenses such as aggravated assault, rape and domestic violence, were down 10%.
Property crimes such as burglary, robbery and shoplifting dropped 20%, with 192 fewer offenses reported. Some of the most significant decreases were in robberies and car burglaries, which were the lowest since 2004.
Hambrick said crimes against property are often more easily prevented than crimes against persons, which has likely attributed to a sharper decrease. However, he said, “It’s not rocket science” when looking at the bigger picture, “It’s just relationships.”
“We want to continue to be as safe as we can be, and I think one of the things that separates other communities and their agencies from what we do is the relationship we have in the community,” Hambrick said. “It’s that simple.”
Hambrick said officers have continuously made efforts to engage with the community with robust messaging systems and a strong presence in the city. Often police will get tips and information from residents that assists in clearing cases.
“If you go out into our community, you’re going to see our officers,” Hambrick said. “People say, ‘I see you all everywhere.’ That’s what we want to happen. You also deter crime with your presence, and you can’t quantify that. We don’t know how much it’s being deterred.”
Last year, Mt. Juliet had 54 violent crimes reported and cleared 70% of them. Nearby cities like Lebanon had more violent crimes reported, and fewer were cleared by police. Mt. Juliet ranked below Nashville and Lebanon in 2021 crime rates, but higher than Franklin and Brentwood.
However, while nearly all crimes against property dropped in Mt. Juliet last year, car thefts rose by 20% in Franklin and 67% in Brentwood. Crimes against property accounted for 60% of crime in Brentwood and 49% of crime in Franklin.
“Being out in the community and talking to our citizens, knowing that they communicate to us that they feel safe, that’s what matters,” said Hambrick, who added that police plan to continue working to keep crime down in the coming years.
He also attributed the police department’s success to investments from city leadership. In addition to acquiring new technology like the ALPR program, the police department has been able to expand its headquarters and add 10 new employees.
“I tell people all the time, ‘We’re not perfect.’ We try to do everything the right way, but it definitely starts with everybody being focused and intentional in wanting to prevent crime, and we need resources to do that,” Hambrick said. “Our commission stepped up and gave us those resources.”