GREENVILLE — The past couple months have been busy for the Greenville Department of Public Safety and nerve-racking for many of the citizens it serves.
November saw a brazen mid-morning armed robbery at the downtown Huntington Bank branch, followed by a shooting at the Flat River Inn & Suites four days later.
More than two weeks later, a thief stole a handful of valuables from Huch’s Fine Jewelry in the downtown area in an unarmed robbery in broad daylight.
Thursday evening, the downtown area was traumatized again with an armed robbery at the Family Dollar store at the corner of Grove and Franklin streets.
Police have yet to make an arrest in any of the four crimes, which has many in the community questioning the ability of the Public Safety Department to solve them. More than 10 people on The Daily News Facebook page questioned the department’s effectiveness Thursday evening.
Some people even insinuated public safety officers are involved in the crimes because they haven’t been able to solve any yet.
Gary Valentine, interim Greenville public safety director, strongly disagrees with the criticism. He believes his officers are up to the challenge of solving each of the crimes and part of the public’s uneasiness may be due to misconceptions raised on popular crime dramas on TV.
“Greenville is still a safe community,” he said. “What people have to remember is we have not had any major crimes in the city for a number of years. It’s unfortunate that everything comes at one time.”
Status of cases
Valentine pointed out the bank robbery investigation has been turned over to the FBI, which is now the lead agency in charge of the case.
Uncooperative witnesses thus far have stymied the investigation into the shooting.
“We believe that the victim and the people within the hotel room are either unable or unwilling to provide us with any investigative leads on that,” he said. “They have not provided us with any description of subjects involved with that shooting.”
Valentine said delving into an investigation is difficult without some of the basic information from witness that so far is lacking.
He downplayed the incident at Huch’s Fine Jewelry as a retail fraud and not a robbery, mostly because the suspect did not show a weapon or make any threats to employees.
“He just grabbed and ran,” Valentine said. “It’s not a violent crime. It’s a typical retail fraud that occurs all the time in places such as Wal-Mart, Kmart and Meijer.”
However, he acknowledged the crime raised concerns among the general public due to its timing shortly after the bank robbery and shooting, along with the store’s downtown location.
“It certainly does leave a sense of uneasiness, which I can certainly understand,” Valentine said.
He noted the Family Dollar robbery investigation still is in its infancy. Officers need more time to seek information and follow up on leads.
Valentine said the quick investigations shown on TV shows such as CSI on CBS are not realistic and don’t portray law enforcement in the real world.
“Crimes are not solved in 60 minutes like on TV,” Valentine said. “There is no CSI that comes out and has the fancy equipment that can solve and put the pieces together within a 60-minute time frame.”
Valentine said Greenville definitely is undergoing a spike in crime that is “unusual” for the area, but not unprecedented for the city or other similar sized cities.
“If you compare us with other cities that have similar crimes, I think you will find that we are relatively a safe community,” he said. “Do we have our problems? Yes we do have our problems, as all communities do.
“To say that Greenville is not a safe city, I think, is a poor statement,” Valentine added.
He believes some of the increase in crime is due to economic and cultural factors.
Specifically, Valentine said a sagging economy and crime increase often go hand-in-hand. Also, he pointed out a growing community brings more significant problems.
“When we see an influx of residents from outside the general area — from, for instance, Grand Rapids — who are moving to find a better life, along with those issues come the problems they bring with them from Grand Rapids,” Valentine said.
He can recall other spurts of violent crimes in Greenville during his 28-year career with the Public Safety Department. He doesn’t put much stock in pop psychology theories behind them, such as a full moon or biorhythms.
“It’s not unusual to have crimes piggy-back themselves,” Valentine said. “I do recall times when we have had major crimes back-to-back. Sometimes they were related, sometimes they were not.”
Valentine wouldn’t comment much on whether any of the recent violent crimes are related.
“I know the assumption out there is that many of these may be connected,” he said. “They very well may be or they very well may be random. At this time I’m not going to speculate on the connectivity of these crimes.”
Valentine strongly refutes criticism that his department isn’t up to the task or solving major crimes.
“For the community to take shots at the Greenville Department of Public Safety to say (we) are incapable or don’t have the resources to solve a crime — again, it takes more time than 60 minutes to solve a crime,” he said.
Valentine said every officer in the department is professional.
“We have good investigators and good officers,” he said. “They are capable of doing the job.”
The department also is collaborating with other agencies about the recent crimes and many other incidents.
Valentine pointed out Greenville officers worked with the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office and Michigan State Police on Thursday as the Family Dollar investigation was unfolding.
“We are working strong and hard,” he said. “We have resources available to us that we can draw on and that we have drawn on, as other agencies have drawn on our resources.”
Valentine declined to explain the tactics being used and manpower allocated to each of the investigations.
He believes every crime eventually can be solved, including each of the recent violent crimes.
“Sooner or later a lead will come in that will break the case,” Valentine said. “To say these crimes are unsolvable, I think, is not a fair statement. Every crime is solvable.
“However, it’s going to take some luck and some good police work to solve these things — and some information,” he added. “The only ones who will be able to provide us with the information are witnesses.”
Valentine has no timeframe for when the recent crimes may be solved.
“It won’t be in the 60 seconds or the 60 minutes that is portrayed on TV,” he said.