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Rising From Rust

How students really feel about safety in their hometowns

A series of student surveys

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How students really feel about safety in their hometowns

MANSFIELD -- Safety comes first for elementary school students.

When Richland Source recently surveyed 510 students -- 216 in 12th grade and 294 in either fourth or fifth -- about how they perceive their hometowns and whether they’ll stay post-graduation, safety was listed as a determining factor by the majority of students, and was the most popular factor in the younger group.

About 78 percent of elementary students listed “having a safe community” in a question asking which factors matter when considering where they’ll live after graduating high school. About 68 percent of high school students listed “having low crime rate.”

The difference in wording was determined as the survey was developed with assistance from area educators. They were asked to help form questions appropriate for each age group.

Then, students were asked specifically about their hometowns. Elementary school students were asked, “Do you think your hometown is safe?” and high school seniors were asked, “Do you think your hometown has a low crime rate?”

From Students' Point of View

Students, especially elementary students, believe their respective hometowns are safe.

Approximately 68 percent of fourth and fifth graders who answered said their hometowns are “definitely” or “probably” safe based on the survey results.

“I love my hometown,” a Crestview fifth grader said. “I feel very safe in my hometown, where it is a nice, clean neighborhood.”

She and about 30 others used the word “safe” or “crime” when explaining why they will or won’t consider living in their hometown after graduation.

“I like my hometown and it is safe-ish, and green, and has lots of hills, and I like all the stuff here,” a fourth grader from Mansfield Spanish Immersion School said.

A combined 41 percent of high school students answered that their hometowns are either “definitely” or “probably” safe. This compares with 31 percent who expressed beliefs that their hometown was “definitely” or “probably” not safe.

Only two mentioned the words “safe” or “crime” in the open-answer portion of the survey.

“The hometown is not as safe as I would like,” a Galion High School student said.

The student answered “maybe” when asked if she plans to live their after graduation.

A Mansfield Senior High School student, who answered that they do not like their hometown, also mentioned safety as a concern.

“Something always seems to be going on that is not safe, and that’s not ok,” the student said.

From Law Enforcement’s Point of View

Captain James Sweat, of the Richland County Sheriff’s Office, believes the county is a safe place to live.

“The areas of which the Sheriff's Office has a primary response for -- the unincorporated portions of the county along with the Villages of Lucas and Shiloh -- continue to see a reduction in overall crime and remain below the national averages.”

In early June, he provided data that shows decreased offenses in homicide, arson and kidnapping offenses among other crimes from 2016 to 2017.

Homicides dropped 100 percent from three reported offenses in 2016 to zero in 2017; arson crimes dropped 40 percent from five to three reported offenses; assault dropped 11 percent from 559 to 497 reported offenses; kidnapping and abduction dropped 67 percent from six to two reported offenses; forcible sex offenses dropped four percent from 47 to 45 reported offenses; and burglary (breaking and entering) dropped by 38 percent from 450 to 277 reported offenses.

The crimes that increased in that period were motor vehicle theft by 30 percent, robbery by 114 percent, counterfeiting and forgery by 69 percent and pornography by 60 percent.

sheriff office crime stats 2016 and 2017

The Mansfield Police Department saw its third consecutive year of decreased part-one crimes, according to Chief Ken Coontz when the department released its crime statistics in February.

The MPD saw a seven percent decrease in overall part-one crimes (arson, homicide, manslaughter, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft) from 2016 to 2017.  

According to the information provided, arson crimes dropped eight percent from 25 to 23 reported offenses; rape dropped 30 percent from 80 to 56 reported offenses; burglary dropped 13.7 percent from 668 to 576 reported offenses; larceny dropped 3.9 percent from 1828 to 1756 reported offenses; and auto theft dropped 38.9 percent from 136 to 83 reported offenses.

Homicides, however, increased by 133.3 percent. In 2016, there were three, but in 2017, there were seven.

"I would be surprised if that number is ever duplicated," Coontz said. "Homicide was really strange (this) year for us."

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Robberies also jumped 15.1 percent from 66 cases in 2016 to 76 in 2017. Assault was up 49 percent after 55 cases were reported in 2016 and jumped to 86 last year.

"Although some categories went up and some went down, when you calculate the overall category, you'll find a 7-percent decrease in reported crime from 2016 to 2017," Coontz said. "Of course our overall goal is to impact all violent crime.”



It’s important to note that “having a safe community” and “having a low crime rate” may not equate to the same thing. For example, a high school student might believe their community is safe, but doesn’t feel that the crime rates are low.

The original phrasing was “low crime rate” for both versions of the survey, but advice from local educators made the staff reconsider the wording for elementary students.

Further, the results likely vary by hometown, but the results were not broken down by area for this portion of the survey.

Who was surveyed?

The Richland Source survey included 510 students with 216 in 12th grade and 294 in either fourth and fifth grades. With advice primarily from Shelby Superintendent Tim Tarvin, staff reporters developed survey questions and determined what age groups would best be able to respond.

The intention was to get opinions from high school students, who are immediately thinking about what they’ll do and where they’ll live post-graduation, and elementary school students, who don’t likely have fully formed opinions of their hometowns yet.

Schools participating were Mansfield Senior High School, Mansfield’s Malabar Elementary and Spanish Immersion Schools; Shelby High School and Shelby’s Dowds Elementary School; Ontario High School and Ontario’s Stingel Elementary School; Madison Comprehensive High School; Lucas High School and Elementary School; Lexington Junior High School; Crestview High School and Elementary School; Crestline High School and Galion High School.

Others were invited, but did not participate. These schools include Plymouth High School and Plymouth-Shiloh Elementary School; Mansfield’s Woodland Elementary School, Prospect Elementary School, John Sherman Elementary and Springmill STEM Elementary; Shelby’s Auburn Elementary; Madison’s Eastview, South and Mifflin Elementary Schools; Lexington High School; Crestline Elementary School and Galion Primary School.

Reasons for lack of participation vary. For example, Mansfield City Schools superintendent Brian Garverick chose to send the surveys to two of the district’s multiple elementary schools. Other superintendents expressed concern about affecting instructional time, a situation Lucas High School approached by asking students to answer the surveys from home.

Read more about how students feel about their hometowns here. And follow Rising from Rust for the next articles in this series.

Richland Source Reporter Noah Jones contributed to this article.

This Solutions Journalism story is brought to you in part by the generous support of our Newsroom Partners: Spherion, Visiting Nurses Association, PR Machine Works, Nanogate/Jay Systems, DRM Productions, OhioHealth Mansfield Hospital, Richland Bank, Mechanics Bank, Area Agency on Aging, and many others. To learn more about Solutions Journalism at Richland Source click the "About Solutions Journalism."

Staff Reporter

Proud Pennsylvania native. Joined the staff in April 2017. Formerly Tracy Geibel.