The St. Joseph Police Department calls the latest overnight helicopter operation a success.

In terms of numbers, it’s hard to disagree with Chief Chris Connally’s assessment of yet another evening of a Missouri State Highway Patrol helicopter hovering over the streets of St. Joseph, in cooperation with police and other law enforcement agencies in the area. For a year and a half, the police have used the helicopter on occasion to help pursue fleeing vehicles.

The high-in-the-sky operations come at a time when the public is increasingly concerned about crimes on the ground, and especially vehicle thefts, in St. Joseph. Last week, the helicopter was used to assist in 50 car stops, resulting in 51 citations and 13 arrests for offenses ranging from resisting arrest to drug possession and unlawful possession of a firearm.

Connally calls a helicopter a better way to apprehend fleeing suspects without risking the safety of citizens on the ground. “Every vehicle that fled, with the assistance of the air unit, we were able to apprehend the suspect,” he told our reporter.

To a degree, the benefits of the helicopter operations come less from the arrests and more from the clear message that the humming rotors send, both to those who break the law and those who are fed up with crime.

As 2019 winds to a close, police can point to some improved trends with crime statistics in St. Joseph. In the first 11 months of 2019, St. Joseph experienced year-to-date drops of 12 percent for robberies, 21 percent for burglaries and 26 percent for aggravated assaults.

Yet vehicle thefts remain a stubborn nuisance St. Joseph just can’t seem to shake. This crime was up 8 percent year-to-date, with the summer months proving especially troublesome.

In St. Joseph, vehicle thefts rose nearly 33 percent from 2016 to 2017, from 611 to 812. The number dropped to 574 in 2018.

Police haven’t always been clear about whether the helicopter is brought in to specifically address vehicle thefts or to pursue fleeing vehicles and control crime from a broader sense. Either way, the public should get behind this enforcement tactic and the “this-means-business” statement that it sends.

Crime is a complex, multi-faceted problem that must be confronted from several angles. Certainly, the helicopter is just one part of that effort, one that’s incredibly visible from time to time.

We believe from a tactical standpoint, based on the number of arrests, Connally is right. These helicopter operations are a success.

From a broader standpoint, one could argue that these operations are not successful until they’re no longer needed in St. Joseph.