Santa Paula Times

Big drop in Santa Paula crime rate in spite of rise in calls, staffing shortages

June 23, 2010
Santa Paula Police Department

In spite of a rise in the number of calls for service and Santa Paula Police staffing challenges, crime almost across the board booked sharp decreases in 2009.

The report shows the crime rate per thousand persons decreased from 29.7 in 2008 to 25.2 last year.

Part I Crime, those considered more serious, dropped overall by 15.03 percent over 2008 from 878 to 746 occurrences last year with no homicides reported, a 100 percent decrease over 2008 when the city experienced one murder. Rape also showed a decline of 50 percent, from eight reported cases in 2008 to four last year.

Robbery also fell by 14.9 percent, with 47 incidents reported in 2008 and 41 in 2009, while burglary saw a smaller drop with 115 crimes reported last year compared to 123 occurrences in 2008, a 6.5 percent decrease. There was a dramatic 22.2 percent drop in theft, from 577 in 2008 to 449 last year.

Theft is broad-based said Police Chief Steve MacKinnon. “It could be any number of things, things taken out of a garage, out of a parked car; also a theft is shoplifting or somebody that bounces a check, buys a bicycle with a check and it bounces.... Theft is pretty much any way of stealing somebody’s property,” other than burglary, which requires an act of breaking in.

Auto theft, including joy riding, was up from 62 instances in 2008 to 74 in 2009, a 16.2 percent increase. Aggravated assault saw a slight 4.8 percent increase, with 63 incidents in 2009 compared to 60 the previous year.

Part II Offenses, also known as officer initiated activity, dropped from 1,522 occurrences in 2008 to 1,306 in 2009, a change MacKinnon said is hard to “point to a specific factor.... Every year we get more calls for service, and when these go up officers have less time” to initiate activity.

The SPPD has also seen decreases in staffing: “We have lost two police officers.... Activity is going up and we have less officers to do the work.”

Recovered/possession of stolen property was cut in half - 32 incidents in 2008, 16 last year - and narcotics/drug violations also fell from 390 in 2008 to 238 this year. Weapons violations almost tripled, with 66 in 2008 to 178 last year, and warrant arrests also saw a surge with 389 in 2009 compared to 264 in 2008. MacKinnon attributes both to the “increased amounts of motor vehicle stops” and officer self-initiated activity.

There were 2,925 traffic citations issued in 2008, and last year there was a sharp increase to 3,993 citations issued. In addition, the SPPD applies “a program ‘looking beyond’ the traffic ticket. People that break traffic laws also break the law in other areas and can be the scofflaw for the small things and also the bigger things,” such as weapon possession, open alcohol containers and stolen property, among other crimes.

“Officers are very focused on, after making their initial stop,” looking beyond the ticket, and MacKinnon said it often turns out that the stopped subject is a gang member or on probation. Such status “allows us to search” the vehicle, where evidence of criminal activity is uncovered.

Several SPPD officers and the department overall were recently honored by MADD for drunk driving enforcement and the numbers show why: in 2008 179 arrests were made and 215 were made last year. Related to the pickup in DUI arrests are the number of accidents involving a drunk driver: in 2008 there were 26 incidents, and only 16 last year.

MacKinnon said stepped up traffic enforcement is “not just for the people being stopped. Obviously when you have a car pulled over people drive by,” and observing the law enforcement action it makes “them more aware of their own driving habits.”

Other traffic accidents that occurred include hit and run, 51 in 2008 and 28 last year; traffic accidents on public streets, 143 in 2008, 116 in 2009; accidents involving a city car, 5 in 2008 and 2 last year. There were two fatal traffic accidents each in 2008 and 2009. In all there was a total of 227 traffic accidents in 2008, compared to 164 accidents in 2009.

Drunk in public incidents decreased last year to 62 incidents, compared to 83 in 2008. Liquor law violations - such offenses range from selling to minors to making purchases for same, “beer runs” to open container violations, said MacKinnon - were down from 92 in 2008 to 43 last year. The SPPD has “tried to work with different stores” to reduce alcohol related incidents, including not placing cases of alcohol next to the exit where a thief can make a fast getaway.

Misdemeanor traffic violations decreased from 316 in 2008 to 165 in 2009. Stored/towed vehicles increased from 838 in 2008 to 979 in 2009. False alarm responses were down, with 668 last year compared to 697 in 2008.

In total there were 1,306 Part II Offenses last year, compared to 1,522 in 2008. In 2008 there were 29,530 calls for service, compared to 31,368 last year.