With the state’s lowest violent and property crime rates, Chester Township claims the top spot this year for the first time as Ohio’s safest city.
SafeWise, an online resource that offers safety solutions, listed Chester Township as No. 1 on its list of Ohio’s 20 Safest Cities for 2021.
“One of the interesting things about not just Chesterland but Geauga County, we’ve got a reputation in the area, when you get arrested you go to jail, there’s no pussy-footing around about it,” said Trustee Walter “Skip” Claypool. “If you do the crime you are going to do the time and so we’ve got a reputation from that perspective and criminals know that, so generally they try to avoid getting caught in Geauga County because they know it’s not going to go well for them.”
Three Ohio cities reported zero violent crimes this year, which included Chester Township in Geauga County, Sagamore Hills in Summit County and American Township in Allen County, according to SafeWise.
Also joining the list for the first time was Bay Village, which was ranked at No. 9 and in the No. 2 position was Olmsted Township. Other cities included Sagamore Hills at No. 3, North Ridgeville at No. 6, Clearcreek Township at No. 4 and Seven Hills in the No. 10 spot.
According to a 2020 year-end Incident and Arrest Report from the Chester Township Police Department, there were 177 physical criminal arrests, 38 felony investigative violations and 749 citation and misdemeanor violations out of a total of 5,382 total incidents.
“I have been privileged to spend my entire career in Chester Township, all 34 years,” said Police Chief Mark Purchase, who has served as chief for 15 years.
With a population of 10,322, Chester Township has 15 full-time police officers and one part-time officer.
“Our residents become the eyes and ears of the police department, with two or three officers working at any given time and 25 square miles to patrol, our residents play a key role in helping us,” Chief Purchase said. “They know their neighborhoods better than anyone and know who lives there, what’s normal and who looks out of place.”
According to SafeWise, despite above-average concerns over police violence, 60 percent of people in Ohio reported having confidence in law enforcement, above the U.S. average of 56 percent.
“Our residents are always encouraged to call us every time that they are concerned about a suspicious person or circumstance and allow our officers the opportunity to respond and investigate,” said Chief Purchase.
Although Ohio’s violent crime rate is relatively low compared to most states, it had a small increase from 2.8 crimes per 1,000 people to 2.9 this year, according to the SafeWise survey. “The state’s property crime rate follows recent downward trends across the nation by moving down from 21.8 per 1,000 people to 20.6.”
Mr. Claypool said Chester doesn’t have that much crime. “We don’t because we’re constantly aware, we’re on a watch, and so when something happens, we deal with it, and we do it quickly and effectively.
“We have a great police department here in Chesterland and Mark Purchase is a great chief, all of the officers that work in Chesterland are good, decent, guys and they do a great job, they have a lot of dedication to their jobs,” Mr. Claypool said.
Mr. Claypool said that the people who work for the township including the police department, fire department and road department are very community oriented.
“I think that all contributes to the lack of crime, not that we don’t have crime, we’ve been in the news. We have people that periodically shoot at someone or we had a road chase, or some guys were trying to steal a motorcycle over at an apartment complex and they happen to be wandering through Chesterland, and we nabbed them and held them for the sheriff,” said Mr. Claypool. “We’re very engaged in the legal system and ensuring that that legal system does what it’s supposed to do, and that is take criminals off the street.”
Trustee Ken Radtke, Jr., a resident since 1990, said the township is a special place because it still has the rural feel but is very close to city amenities.
“I am in my 10th year having the honor and privilege of serving as a Chester Township Trustee,” said Mr. Radtke. “In general, I think Geauga County is a great place to live, very scenic and generally peaceful.”
When it comes to crime in the township, Mr. Radtke said that it certainly helps that the residents look out for each other. “Having neighbors that pay attention to their property and their neighbors is always helpful.”
Ohio’s crime rates are lower than the national average, though the property crime rate is close to the U.S. average, according to SafeWise. “Among all 50 states, Ohio has the 18th-lowest violent crime rate and the 24th lowest property crime rate.”
Chief Mark Purchase said that rural communities are managed differently than big cities. In a rural area you will have fewer on-duty officers working at any given time and again patrolling and responding to calls in a larger area an officer may need to respond to a call alone if other members of his or her shift are already busy on other calls.
“We all rely on each other, agency to agency and use mutual aid to support each other,” said Chief Purchase. “Geauga County is a very special place, and our safety forces are second to none, all on the same page and always prepared to help one another.”
Chief Purchase said what makes Chester Township so special are the people who live and work here. “We are one of the main gateways to Geauga County and our residents are extremely welcoming and interested in what’s best for their community,” said Chief Purchase. From our community events and parks to the convenience and close proximity to services, Chester Township enjoys being relatively close to the benefits of downtown, while providing a slower and more rural pace for their personal lives, homes and families.”
SafeWise also reported a smaller percentage of Ohio residents are worried about their safety on a daily basis than last year, but the state remains above the national average for daily concern. “Like most Americans, Ohioans’ biggest crime worry is package theft.”
Mr. Claypool said it doesn’t surprise him that Chester has been recognized as the safest city in Ohio for 2021. “It wasn’t a goal or objective to be the safest community in the state, but it just comes from doing all the right things and doing all the right things consistently.”