MIDDLETOWN, Ohio -- When Jemita Hill overdosed on heroin, the two men in her home stole her money and ran. Her nine children -- the youngest just a year old -- watched her die less than two weeks before Christmas.
That was how the Middletown Police Department's 2017 ended. Hill's death badly upset the detectives called to investigate and epitomized a growing reputation police chief Rodney Muterspaw tried his hardest to fight: It's not safe in Middletown.
Muterspaw, who grew up in Middletown and has children of his own, wanted 2018 to be different.
By Monday night, he could finally say it was.
Overdoses like the one that claimed Hill's life dropped by 49 percent over the course of the year; theft dropped by 22 percent; and the rate of violent crimes decreased by 18 percent.
"Those are the ones we look at and say, 'Wow,'" he said of the numbers. "We're stunned by it, too, over time."
Although Muterspaw credited the assistance of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Homeland Security with helping secure major arrests, such as the 12 that put cartel-affiliated drug traffickers in prison, he said much of the declining crime rate had to do with the efforts of ordinary Middletonians who felt "starved" for a safer community.
Some utilized tools such as Facebook messaging to spread tips they might not have shared in person. Others helped run church programs meant to counsel and uplift recovering drug users on the journey to sobriety.
The city's heroin response team, an idea lifted from Colerain Township, followed up with overdose victims to ensure they had access to recovery resources.
At every turn, Muterspaw said, citizens, churches, judges and first responders supported the police department's efforts and helped form partnerships that make the community better for everyone.
"We know that can change tomorrow," he added. "In our line of work, we've seen drops before. (Then) boom, the next year it's up again. You have to make sure you stay on top of it."
He plans to.