Crime down overall, but rise in incidents against children 'concerning'

Becky Vargo • Jun 10, 2019 at 12:00 PM

Overall, criminal activity decreased slightly in Ottawa County last year, but the number of crimes against children is rising at an alarming level, Sheriff Steve Kempker said.

In 2018, the Sheriff’s Office experienced a very slight decrease in activity across the county, less than 1 percent of the 496 incidents, Kempker said recently when reviewing his annual report.

“Overall, numbers are very similar to 2017,” the sheriff said. “We saw a rise in several areas,” including mental health incidents, crimes against children, domestic-related crimes and assault. “As related to domestic violence, we saw more violent offenses with some involving homicide."

Kempker said the rise in domestic violence and child abuse cases is “very concerning.”

There was a 36 percent increase in cases referred to the Children’s Advocacy Center in 2018, he said. “We’re looking to be up from that in 2019.”

Kempker noted that some of the rises and falls in numbers are related to changes in the reporting methods required by the state.

For instance, some domestic violence incidents fall under the assault category.

“We had 612 domestic violence calls” in 2018, Kempker said. “A lot of those involve assaults.”

For report purposes, Kempker noted that police are called on incidents, but not all incidents turn into actual cases that they handle.

An example: In Spring Lake Township, there were a total of 3,263 incidents in 2018 that resulted in 2,137 cases. The previous year, 1,286 cases arose out of 3,128 incidents.

Violent crimes

Records show that there were five murders in Ottawa County last year, three of which were domestic related and two that involved children. That compares to two murders in 2017 and three in 2016.

Kempker said all five murders have been solved and the suspects are currently making their way through the judicial system.

“Our primary goal is seeking justice for the victims and their families,” the sheriff said. “In these homicide cases, there was a victim to offender relationship. They were not random acts of crime."

There was one more criminal sexual conduct case in 2018 compared to the 146 in 2017. That is up from 125 in 2016.

The Sheriff’s Office maintains two detectives who are primarily assigned to the Children’s Advocacy Center, Kempker said. In 2018, these detectives investigated 494 criminal sexual conduct and abuse cases against children. That resulted in 372 referrals to the CAC.

“The center alone has seen a 36 percent increase in new cases in the last year and are seeing record high numbers,” Kempker said.

Law enforcement notifications from Child Protective Services were at 588 in 2018, up from 111 notifications when the Sheriff’s Office started tracking them in 2009. As of May 1, the Sheriff’s Office was seeing a 64 percent increase in notifications from where they were at this time last year.

Twenty-four robberies were investigated in 2018, compared to 30 in 2017 and 31 in 2016.

The department’s computer forensics detective handled 205 investigations involving digital media and conducted 299 forensics examinations of digital media.

Also of concern are mental health incidents, Kempker said.

“We also continue to see a steady rate of overdose investigations in Ottawa County, mostly opioid type drugs,” he said. “Our drug team remains busy combating the illegal drug activity in Ottawa County.”

Kempker recently was appointed to represent Michigan sheriffs on the President’s Office of National Drug Control Policy on the HITDA board for Michigan.

Kempker said that the department’s road patrol and correctional staff is dealing with mental health incidents daily. The Sheriff’s Office continues to work in collaboration with Ottawa County Community Mental Health, community groups and the courts looking at services, diversion programs and training related to mental health.

“As sheriff, I have been reappointed by Gov. Whitmer to the Mental Health Diversion Council, where we continue looking at the mental health issues around the state, and how this issue is affecting society and the criminal justice and correctional systems," he said.


In 2018, deputies made 29,515 traffic contacts and issued 18,424 traffic tickets. Kempker said that 6,972 traffic crashes were investigated and there were 21 fatal crashes with 23 lives lost. Eight of the fatal crashes involved alcohol and/or drugs.


A total of 7,737 juveniles and adults were arrested in 2018. This is down slightly compared to 2017.

In 2018, through contracts with partnerships in Ottawa County, the Sheriff’s Office was able to hire and add new members to the agency.

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