The Times photo by Betsy Reason
Noblesville Police Chief Kevin Jowitt says “It’s so important for us, every officer in our department, to be interactive with the community.”
The Times photo by Betsy Reason Noblesville Police Chief Kevin Jowitt says “It’s so important for us, every officer in our department, to be interactive with the community.”

Thursday’s Noblesville Police Department awards—including three medals of valor, four lifesaving awards, a Purple Heart and distinguished service awards—got me thinking more about our officers of the law.

And how they protect and serve us and connect with our community here in Noblesville.

Less than a month ago, I wrote about NPD’s Coffee with a Cop, which has moved around to different venues each month since October 2017.
“Keeping our folks connected with our community is why we do so many of the things that we do,” said NPD Chief Kevin Jowitt. “It’s so important for us, every officer in our department, to be interactive with the community.”

NPD officers get a lot of questions.

“Some people have very direct concerns over things that are happening in their neighborhood, and they’ll want to tell us about an issue or a problem,” Jowitt said. “We get a lot of people commenting about traffic-related issues, like speeding in a neighborhood or people running stop signs.”

And “if there have been thefts, people want to talk about that,” he said.

What about crime in Old Town Noblesville?

“We are having phenomenal success with the initiatives we started, really indirectly started, because of the passage of the trash fee (which will increase slightly on July 1 from $10.82 to $10.94 per household to cover the City’s contract with Republic Services),” Jowitt said. 

He said the trash fee allowed NPD “to hire three more people that we plugged into very specific things that we wanted to do.”

As far as numbers of crimes, Jowitt said, “We’ve had some very substantial double-digit decreases in crime in Noblesville over the past two years, a direct result of the Problem Oriented Policing (POP) team and the analysis and intelligence unit and the way those groups are interacting.” The POP team consists of a sergeant, two officers and a K9 team. The POP unit focuses on problem areas in the city that result in repeated calls to the police department that conventional police responses don't resolve. The POP unit uses all resources it has available to resolve any crimes in a given address or area.

“We have been able to very directly attack some of the root causes of crime in Noblesville, especially property crime, thefts, burglaries. We’ve had very significant results,” Jowitt said.

“The most common crime in Noblesville is theft, either shoplifting type crime or theft from a vehicle, occasionally locked cars, usually unlocked cars. We always, always, always tell people ‘Take values out of your car,’” Jowitt said. “So many people in Hamilton County don’t use garages, even when they’re parked at home, or parked in a public place. There will be things laying in cars that are attractive targets.”

And thefts aren’t just in Noblesville neighborhoods. “There are organized groups that will target vehicles in a parking lot and frequently they get good stuff, because people are very trusting and maybe aren’t as cautious as they should be, leaving valuable things in plain sight.”

Jowitt also addressed the drug problem. “We’ve got the same problem as everybody else does. It’s a societal issue right now, unfortunately.” 
The Hamilton/Boone County Drug Task Force, a partnership of several law enforcement agencies serving to stem the flow and distribution of illegal substances into and within the two counties, will celebrate 30 years in 2020.

The Drug Task Force identifies and arrests individuals or members of organizations that are selling, delivering, or storing illegal drugs and/or weapons in Hamilton and Boone counties. It works to identify property and assets that have been acquired with proceeds from the sale, delivery, or storage of illegal drugs and/or weapons and submit those items for forfeiture.

Jowitt said there are certain drug issues, obviously, that are crimes, and NPD continues to investigate and prosecute criminal activities associated with drug activities.

“Drug addiction is an illness,” said Jowitt, who drew attention to Gov. Eric J. Holcomb’s recent 2019 State of the State address, during which Holcomb said the state was “making progress” on the drug epidemic. “The number of opioid prescriptions is down, communities are forming their own systems of care, and we are getting drug data faster and more accurately than ever before,” Holcomb said in the address.

Jowitt said, “We need, as a society, to improve mental health treatment, to improve and try to find as effective of a narcotic addiction treatment as we possibly can. And then engage in efforts to support people with mental illness and people with addiction illnesses moving forward. Even people who get help at a facility, when they get back out, they frequently don’t have the kind of support they need to maintain a drug-free lifestyle, and it’s very easy for them to fall back into a bad habit.”

Jowitt said, “There is so much more to this than a criminal justice solution. We’re certainly going to continue to do our job with law enforcement activities with property crime that’s related to drug addiction. But we have to deal with addiction as its own separate issue and try to develop effective modalities or treatment in linking people with the resources that they need to get better.”

Jowitt said NPD is working with the school district to put more resource officers in the schools. When NPD’s staffing plan is complete, the district will have a total 12 resource officers in Noblesville Schools. That’s one in each building and two supervisors. “That’s been our intention for years,” but there’s always been a funding issue, Jowitt said.

While police are an expensive resource, he said, “Obviously things that have happened in Noblesville and just around us in recent years have really driven home the need to do it.

What happened in our experience in May of last year absolutely demonstrated the necessity of having school resource officers in each building.
Noblesville West Middle School’s school shooting of teacher Jason Seaman and student Ella Whistler on May 25, 2018, demonstrated the importance of a school resource officer. 

NWMS’s resource officer, NPD Patrolman Michael Steffen was recently named a 2018 Police Officer of the Year by the Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). Hamilton County Prosecutor D. Lee Buckingham II also recognized Steffen for distinguished service to the community and the pursuit of justice. 

Now back to the NPD awards. Distinguished Citizens Service Awards went to NWMS teacher Jason Seaman and school nurse Megan Schlueter for their heroic action on May 25. The ceremony also included special recognitions for NPD officers with Medals of Valor for Master Patrolman Matthew Johnston and Sgt. Jordan Granger and Lt. Jason Voyak, a Lifesaving Award for Det. April Kline and Patrolman Corey McGriff, and Purple Heart Medal for Master Patrolman Jason McDermott. NPD officers with 20, 25 and 40 years of service were recognized. Plus 10 new officers were sworn in. (Read more about the awards in today’s edition of The Times.)

What else is happening at NPD?

The City for the past couple of years has had its eye on the old Firestone Industrial Products property, which could become the location for the construction of a new police department building.

“The City is still very seriously considering the Firestone site,” Jowitt said. “We’re in the process of having environmental testing done to see if that’s a safe location.”

The conceptual building would be about 45,000 square feet and in the range of $11 to $14 million. “It’s something we really need,” he said.
The next Coffee with a Cop, during which the community can talk one one one with officers, will be at 10 a.m. Feb. 26 at Noble Coffee & Tea on the east side of the Courthouse Square in downtown Noblesville.

NPD uses the Coffee with a Cop programs to talk about the neighborhood crime-watch program. “We’re doing everything we can to create and maintain connections with our community,” Jowitt said.

NPD has started a District Policing Program, during which the department assigns officers to one of 16 districts in the city.  If you live in Noblesville, you’re encouraged to reach out to these officers for problems or concerns that are not emergencies and they will contact you within a day or two to work with you toward a solution.  

To start a crime watch group in your neighborhood, contact NPD Sgt. Matt McGovern at mmcgovern@noblesville.in.us.

-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com