Sorry, Chief - I Just Don't Feel Safer
Earlier this month the local media reported that, while crime rates dropped in most big Orange County cities, Costa Mesa was one of two - the other being Huntington Beach - that showed a rise in violent crime. Costa Mesa's numbers jumped a whopping 35.7%! You can read the Orange County Register article on this subject HERE.
THE CHIEF SPEAKS
Costa Mesa's Police Chief, Christopher Shawkey - apparently feeling a lot of heat from those numbers - wrote a commentary in the Daily Pilot which appears today in print. You can read the chief's article HERE. (Note: The Chief's commentary appeared verbatim in the Orange County Register's "The Current" local supplement today, too.)
NEEDED A HUG - GOT A STIFF ARM
When I saw the title, "Explaining rise in violent crime", I expected Chief Shawkey's words to provide me with some comfort. They didn't. I hoped to come away from his commentary less tense about the crime situation in our city. I didn't. In his second paragraph the chief said he felt compelled to "provide some clarity to the city's true crime picture". He didn't.
GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS
He starts by telling us that robberies decreased by 37% between 2006 and 2007. That, of course, is great news. He goes on to tell us that in 2008 it bounced back up to almost the same level as 2006, which - in his words - "was consistent with reported robberies for the past several years, accounting for a large part of the increase in violent crime." Sorry, chief, but that doesn't make me feel safer.
NOT COUNTING CRIMES?!
Then he tells us that his police department - my police department - has been screwing up when reporting certain offenses - they just didn't report them! Yikes! He continues to tell us that his officers have now been trained, so all those crimes are now being reported and that is the reason for the increase in violent crimes. Swell. I still don't feel safer, although I do feel nervous about who's counting what at the CMPD.
NOT AS BAD AS SANTA ANA? - SWELL!
Then, apparently trying to finally make us feel better, he gives us a little chart comparing crime rates in other Orange County cities, illustrating that Costa Mesa is better than places like Santa Ana, Anaheim, Garden Grove and shares the same statistics with Fullerton. He then tells us that, "Even though those cities reported a reduction in their number of violent crimes, their violent crime rates are equal to, or greater than, ours." What?! C'mon, chief - is that supposed to make me feel safer? It doesn't.
GOOD NEWS - KINDA
He wraps it up by telling us that car thefts are down 25%, sexual assaults are down, gang-related arrests are up 30%, DUI-related arrests are high and traffic-related deaths are down. All this is good information.
THE CHIEF'S UNDER PRESSURE
I understand the kind of pressure the chief must be under these days. The city is in the midst of perhaps the greatest financial crisis in it's history with staff cuts almost guaranteed. Rising crime statistics will make it difficult for him and the other city leaders to deal with the police union as they attempt to negotiate mitigation of their current contracts to help the city balance it's budget.
THE CHIEF MISSED THE TARGET
I'm a great supporter of law enforcement. I understand and appreciate the job those brave men and women do for us every single day. I do have an understanding of the kind of person it takes to run a police department effectively - I know several strong, effective law enforcement leaders personally. One of the characteristics a law enforcement leader needs is the ability to help the residents to feel safe in the time of stress and uncertainty. In my opinion, Chief Shawkey failed to do it with his commentary.