BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — For the second time in four years, Waterville has been recognized as one of Ohio’s safest communities.
Last month, Security Baron released its list of the top 50 safest cities in the state, based on FBI rankings of violent and property crimes. Waterville emerged as No. 6 on the list.
According to the Security Baron report, Waterville has .18 violent crimes and 4.53 property crimes per 1,000 citizens, earning an average safety score of 89.45.
Ohio overall averages 2.88 violent crimes and 24.19 property crimes per 1,000, according to the report. The No. 1 safe community is Hinckley Township, with a score of 90.83. Sylvania came in at No. 7 with a score of 89.29.
This is the second time that Waterville has been recognized for its low crime. In 2015, the real estate technology company Movoto named Waterville as the No. 1 safest city in Ohio, using the same FBI information.
Tim Pedro, who is to begin his first term as mayor on January 1 and currently is a member of the Safety Service Committee, credits the police and fire departments, as well as the citizens, for making the community safe.
“Our citizens are vigilant and watch out for one another,” he said. “They respect the laws and respect law enforcement.”
Waterville Police Chief Joe Valvano, who worked for the department for 24 years before being named chief earlier this year, agrees. He recalls getting a call this past summer from someone concerned about an 18-year-old male doing door-to-door solicitation. The man had stopped to talk to children playing in a front yard before advancing to knock on a door. Before Valvano arrived, a group of parents had spread the word through group messaging.
“As I was driving there, I passed 10 houses and, at eight of them, there were moms on the front porch looking down the road,” he said. “They all chat and if something is going on, they let everyone know on the block.”
As he settles into the new job, Valvano said he’s interested in working with block watch groups, and encourages residents to keep an eye out for suspicious activity. StoryPoint residents, for example, can watch as the apartment complex is under construction across Pray Boulevard, to report vehicles on-site after hours or other suspicious activity.
StoryPoint executive director Karen Weigel said the community has more than 100 cameras inside and outside the building, as well as a key fob system for residents and staff.
“With all of these features, and the fact that the fire department and the police department are near to our community, we believe that all of this gives our residents a full sense of feeling comfortable and safe,” Weigel said. “Working with our director of maintenance, both the Waterville police and fire have access to enter our community after hours when the doors are locked. They are very responsive to the entire community’s needs.”
During his tenure as an officer, Valvano often worked the midnight shift, which regularly patrols the city’s 125 businesses.
“We spotlight the doors and windows – most, you can see right through and see the cash register,” Valvano said. Officers also keep a list of residents who are on vacation and check the homes for safety. If a garage door is left open or if something looks suspicious, officers make contact.
Dale and Marla Krause, who moved to Waterville from Maumee in 2003, noted that the police don’t miss much – whether it’s driving with a headlight out or leaving a door open.
“There is no time that we feel unsafe. We walk after dark and don’t feel any concerns for our safety. I used to train for half-marathons and never thought twice about running by myself after dark,” Marla said. “We feel as though there are ample officers on duty at all times. I appreciate living in a safe community.”
So far in 2019, the department has made nearly 30,000 public safety and service details, including business and home checks, vehicle unlocks, returning found items to citizens, handing out awards to children riding their bikes while wearing helmets, and working events.
Waterville police regularly interact with students and staff at Waterville Primary School, said principal Dr. Jamie Hollinger. Every day, the two officers on duty – including Sgt. Gabe Rogers and officers Bobbie-Jo Newman-Buchanan, Jake McConnell and Tina Nicolai – stop by to help kids crossing the street.
“These are great kids,” Rogers said last week as he called out a “good morning!” to students Quinn Fink and Logan Cardosa. “We started doing this at the beginning of 2019.”
At lunchtime or during the day, officers will also walk through the school to build rapport with students and staff.
“They participate and support us in our school safety drills, Walk to School Days, Spring Spectacular, Bike to School and our everyday arrival and dismissal,” Hollinger said. “We greatly appreciate their presence and that our students recognize them (often by name) as adults in the community that work to keep us all safe.”
Of course, Waterville is not entirely crime-free. So far this year, the department has recorded a total of 273 offense reports. Records show 50 felony offenses, but those don’t always translate into charges. In several cases, identity thieves who live out of the state or country targeted elderly residents. This makes it difficult to find someone to charge, Valvano said. Other felonies are pled down to misdemeanor charges.
In total this year, Waterville police officers have driven 75,000 miles, investigated 2,800 complaints and made 86 criminal arrests.
Security Baron statistics do not include domestic violence reports, Valvano said.
“To someone involved in a domestic violence situation, that means someone was harmed or injured,” he said. “This doesn’t necessarily mean that a person was physically injured, but it could be mental abuse or sexual abuse. Domestic violence could be labeled as a violent crime, depending on the severity,” he clarified.
In 2018, Waterville had seven domestic violence calls, 15 domestic argument calls, and two domestic violence calls with reported injuries. So far in 2019, those statistics are about the same, but Valvano noted that family get-togethers over the holidays do create a rise in domestic arguments.
When the US 24 bypass opened in 2012, officers noticed an uptick in crimes such as theft and shoplifting, but that’s since leveled out, Valvano said.
“Now that we know it’s a hot spot, we spend time in the Kroger parking lot or Speedway. When people get off 24, the majority of time, they see a patrol car. We are visible. So when they see that, they’re thinking twice,” Valvano said.
Waterville currently employs 10 full-time officers and the city will hire an 11th by the end of the year.