Just 15 miles separate the homes of Amanda Kirwin and Amanda Damman, but when it comes to crime in the city of Columbus, they couldn’t be farther apart.
Kirwin lives in Cruiser District 83, a Franklinton neighborhood where frustrated residents say their daily chores might include shooing prostitutes out of the vacant house next door or disposing of used syringes before schoolchildren stumble upon them.
Damman, a recent transplant from Toledo, lives in Cruiser District 170, among tidy apartment complexes and streets that meander through charming subdivisions on the Northwest Side, past cul-de-sacs named Otter Lane and Sable Court.
In a review of Columbus Police Division crime reports, The Dispatch found
that Damman’s district had the lowest rate of serious crimes in the city last year after the numbers were adjusted for population.
Kirwin’s district had the highest rate, and she bore the full brunt of that on Aug. 12, when her 14-year-old daughter was killed by a bullet directed at someone else. Amanda, who shared her first name with her mother and dreamed of becoming a star, died before starting the ninth grade.
“If we had all the money in the world to get kids away from here to a better place,” her mother said, before pausing. “I was going to do that. I should have done it awhile ago.”
The Dispatch analysis
of last year’s Columbus police reports focused on crimes that make residents feel most unsafe in their neighborhoods — burglaries, assaults, robberies, rapes and homicides.
In Cruiser District 83, those crimes were reported at a rate of 1,679 per 10,000 people. In District 170, the rate was 53 crimes per 10,000 people.
In raw numbers, police recorded 218 assaults, 111 burglaries and 46 robberies in District 83. District 170 logged 54 assaults, 46 burglaries and three robberies.
Neither district recorded a homicide in 2013. Another district — 122 on the Near East Side — had the highest homicide rate, with 22 per 10,000 people, the analysis found.
Three Downtown cruiser districts were excluded from the comparison for several reasons. The three districts have very low residential population (fewer than 1,000 people in each district) and a large daytime influx of nonresident workers and visitors. The occasional practice of using the address of police headquarters as the location for crimes that occurred elsewhere also skewed numbers in Downtown’s District 162, which is bounded by Nationwide Boulevard on the north, N. 4th Street on the east, E. Broad Street on the south and the Scioto River on the west.
Three of Franklinton’s cruiser districts were in the top five for worst crime rates in 2013: 83, 84 and 81. Also in the top five were District 54 in South Linden and District 122, a swath of the Near East Side between I-70 and E. Main Street between Downtown and Kelton Avenue.
District 83 in Franklinton also had the highest rate in 2012, and the third-highest in 2011, according to the analysis.
Franklinton landlord Bob Hughes pulled up to one of his rental houses in District 83 on a recent morning, immediately spotting the latest manifestation of crime in the neighborhood. Overnight, thieves had broken into the vacant house next door, plucking out the replacement windows and leaving empty sockets with ragged edges.
“This is my version of what’s going on in the neighborhood,” Hughes said. “I’ve been dealing with this crap for years. I’ve got a flat spot on my head from banging it into the wall.”
During a drive around the district, Hughes seethed as he explained the frustrations and fears that he and his tenants share. His well-kept houses stand out on their blighted blocks, but good tenants are hard to find and harder to keep.
“Your crime statistics are woefully short of what’s really going on here,” he said. “The petty crimes have just destroyed the neighborhood.”
James Robison, a handyman employed by Hughes, places the blame squarely on heroin. Robison, who has lived in Franklinton and on the Hilltop, said the surge in heroin abuse has claimed friends and family with stunning ferocity.
“Kids are breaking into their parents’ houses and stealing everything,” he said.
Prostitution, theft, violence: All of it in District 83 is driven by drugs, residents said.
And “all that s— is happening in front of your kids,” said Ilo Retherford, a mother of five.
Columbus Police Cmdr. Scott Hyland, who supervises patrol operations on the West Side, acknowledged that Franklinton’s 8th Precinct, particularly Cruiser Districts 83 and 84, have entrenched crime problems. Franklinton has logged eight homicides this year, unusual for an area that recorded only one homicide in each of the past two years.
“It doesn’t surprise me that the statistics indicate that those are some of the higher-crime areas on the West Side,” Hyland said. “We have a lot of people really hurting. When people are down and having a hard time, some of the social issues such as drugs and alcohol and whatnot start to become kind of pervasive.”
The neighborhoods that make up Cruiser District 170, in the area of Sawmill Boulevard and Hard Road, show no such signs of strain.
Empty houses there are marked by for-sale signs, not broken windows or head-high weeds. When a woman loiters on a street corner here, she is far more likely to be debating her jogging route than looking for the next trick. Olde Sawmill Park is free of the drug paraphernalia and condoms that often litter Cody Park in District 83.
The neighborhoods in 170 feel similar to the others that round out the five cruiser districts with the lowest crime rates, all in the northern half of the city.
Vladimir Nazlymov, Ohio State University’s head fencing coach, moved to District 170 about 15 years ago. He can’t recall a crime near his home, at least “not something serious,” he said.
The area is close to Ohio State and within the city but is quiet and secure, he said. His wife feels safe while he is away at fencing competitions. On the few occasions that they have left doors unlocked or left valuables outside, nothing bad has come of it.
“We are very happy here,” he said.
Taking a break from her run near Olde Sawmill Park with her Siberian husky, Koda, Damman, the former Toledo resident, said she and her husband moved to a nearby apartment complex largely because their research suggested the area was safe. He works for Big Lots; she has worked with psychiatric patients and is looking for jobs at area hospitals.
“Safety was one of our biggest things,” Damman said. “After a 12-hour shift, I don’t want to feel unsafe when I come home at night.”
When the couple were shopping for housing, they were warned away from some parts of the city, including Franklinton.
That unsavory reputation aggravates District 83 homeowners such as Susan Peters, a Dana Avenue neighbor of Amanda Kirwin and a former member of the Franklinton Area Commission. Peters insists that west Franklinton has all the ingredients of a wonderful neighborhood — hardworking, decent folks, a great location and affordable housing with tremendous potential.
“These homes, they are built like ships,” she said.
She and other residents concede that they face crime brought on by myriad problems: absentee slumlords, drug addiction, multigenerational poverty, parenting that can range from poor to nonexistent.
Peters appreciates the police but wants to see more of them, not only in cruisers but also on bicycles and on foot, locking up petty offenders.
“I don’t care whether you get the ‘big fish,’ ” she said. “These (street-level criminals) terrorize their neighborhood.”
Calling herself “the nosy, gray-haired b—- of the neighborhood,” she said fed-up residents must make a daily stand against crime, sending a unified message that they have had enough.
“The biggest thing you should be afraid of is being a prisoner in your own home,” she said.
Knowing the neighbors, staying alert and participating in crime-watch programs are among the ways residents can fight back, she said.
But many don’t call police to report crimes. “Anyone who lives in Franklinton will tell you that the police are overwhelmed,” said Hughes, the landlord.
Since becoming commander of Zone 3 this summer, Hyland has heard those complaints from West Side residents. The rash of homicides in west Franklinton suggests that the area has “got to be one of our highest priorities.”
It’s been 10 years since he was out on patrol, Hyland said, and he has been “blown away” by what he has seen this summer.
“As a society, have we started to become apathetic toward crime to the point where we’re not even reporting it? Getting these crimes reported is extremely important.”
Back on Dana Avenue, Kirwin said she appreciates the police, who quickly arrested a neighborhood teen and charged him in Amanda’s death.
She tries to visit the cemetery every day to speak to the girl who dreamed of making it on American Idol, who is now memorialized on her friends’ T-shirts and at a makeshift sidewalk shrine.
“She always wanted to be famous,” Kirwin said. “Now, she gets her dream, but it’s the wrong way.”
The shrine of candles, stuffed animals and trinkets has grown smaller as the days pass. People, one neighbor said, have been stealing from it.