OKLAHOMA CITY - The overall crime rate has dropped, but rapes and murders spiked in 2015, according to statistics released by the Oklahoma City Police Department.
Homicides increased by 64 percent in 2015.
Rapes hit their highest number since at least 2002, up 14 percent from 2014.
"The increase doesn't surprise me very much," said Karla Docter, the YWCA's senior director of sexual violence prevention and response. "We see a lot of people coming forward that this has happened to. We also have to understand that rape is one of the most underreported crimes out there. So, what we're seeing for how many people coming forward and reporting: there are hundreds more that are not reporting that don't feel that support from the system."
Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty said the increases in rape could have to do with a new, expanded definition of the term.
Through the year 2012, statistics only considered a rape as “The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.”
That changed on Jan. 1, 2013 to include any person - not just a woman - and broadened the actions that could fall in the category.
OCPD said increased awareness of sexual assault is also responsible for the rise in reports.
"A lot of these crimes are better reported than it used to be," said Capt. Paco Balderrama. "There's kind of a negative stigma of being a victim of a sexual act. We want to get rid of that. We want victims to know: look, if you're a victim of a crime, you should report it and you're going to get the support you deserve, not just from the police department but organizations like the YWCA."
The overall crime rate has dropped by 4 percent, according to department figures, highlighted by a 1 percent decrease in aggravated assaults - something the department said it's proud of, even if deadly assaults jumped.
"Homicides are very, very random," Balderrama said. "There's really very little we can do to try to drive that down. But, by driving down aggravated assaults, quite possibly we've been deterring homicides from happening."
Balderrama said the drop is the result of expanding overtime opportunities for officers to patrol in high-crime areas - even if the department is lacking in numbers.
"We may not have the actual number of officers but, by paying overtime and bringing some of the officers that are on their day off in to work, we actually increase our ranks," Balderrama said.
Another area for growth is the percent of citizens who feel safe in the community.
A survey shows only 53 percent of people in Oklahoma City feel safe.
That's below the department's 55 percent target and down from the 60 percent mark the department achieved in 2009.
"Obviously, we want to increase that," Balderrama said. "We do that by having contact with the public. We do that on social media. We do that by really lessening their fears, by letting them know we're doing our job."
Neighborhoods carry some of the responsibility too, said Georgie Rasco, the executive director of Neighborhood Alliance.
"You can't sit back and wish yourself in a safer neighborhood," she said. "What's going to create a safer neighborhood is you and your neighbors making it safer."
Rasco said the safety rate is much higher in organized neighborhoods, where people can keep an eye on one another.
"The number one most recognized tool for making a safer neighborhood is making a more social neighborhood," she said, adding many people in those neighborhoods know their police officer by name. "So, the more you know your neighbors, the more you know what's going on and what's happening, the less crime you will have."
Other positive findings include:
- OCPD's rate of solving crimes is also higher than the national average
- Property crimes decreased last year