“Annual crime statistics for the year-to-date have been reported as of April. Homicide, rape cases, residential burglary, larceny and, motor vehicle crime are down from this same time period last year; robbery and aggravated assault cases reflect the same numbers as this reporting period for 2016.”—From the City of Escondido website
This week the Times-Advocate asked Police Chief Craig Carter to comment on the crime statistics, and to put them into perspective.
“It’s been an interesting year,” Carter said, adding, “There are about a billion things that can make crime statistics good or bad, and I rarely take credit when it’s good because I have to take the blame when it’s bad!”
He explained that although Escondido’s statistics shows homicides are down 33%, that is because of one less homicide this year! Although we tend to think of Escondido as a good-sized city—its population is modest enough that a few changes can swing statistics sharply in one direction or other.
Also, it depends on whose crime statistics you are looking at: the FBI’s or the California Crime Index. For Escondido, the FBI property crime rate decreased 14.31% while the California crime index rate decreased 23.01%—they are different because the FBI takes more crimes into account.
“For instance, using the FBI’s figures, we had one hundred and forty-eight (148) fewer crime cases, but eighty-four (84) less cases under the California index,” said the chief. The FBI crime index includes such things as homicide, robbery, aggravated assault and larceny. California’s index doesn’t include larceny.
“I hate crime statistics but it’s the only way to measure it,” said the chief. One great statistic from the 2016-2017 year was 75 fewer auto thefts, which was a reduction of 34%. “But that could just be two possible suspects in custody for a little more time and off the streets. With so many moving parts it’s hard for me to say.”
That is not to say that the police department doesn’t make efforts to rub out crime in specific neighborhoods. Far from it. The department’s Neighborhood Transformation Project focuses officers on the neighborhoods with the highest rate of blight.
“When you focus in one area you’re going to drive down your neighborhood statistics,” said Carter. “If my numbers were high in those areas and we hit it hard with improvements and arrests that could seriously improve the numbers. We are always reinventing ourselves and moving the bodies around to address concerns.”
What is to keep the criminals from simply flowing from that neighborhood into one where the police are not cracking down, like a balloon that you push on one side and it bulges on the other side?
“It does pop out for a lot of areas,” said Carter. “But when you talk about a residential area with a lot of crime and you attack it there is a displacement—but for a long time it doesn’t show up elsewhere. In the west area of Escondido [where the police presence was increased], for example, they went without an auto theft for seven months.”
There are other factors, as well. In March, the EPD was part of a multi-agency drug task force led by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency—and including the FBI and SD Sheriff’s Department— that decapitated North County’s drug dealing organization with a massive take-down that resulted in 55 arrests (See Union Tribune, March 1, 2017 “55 indicted in massive North County heroin and meth takedown.”) This enormous haul was said to have dealt a heavy blow to the area’s distribution network.
In May combined police agencies continued their crackdown against about 20 gangs, a crackdown that began in February. In Escondido, the Diablo gang had been under surveillance and wiretapping when one of the gang members allegedly fired the fatal bullet that killed Escondido resident Cathy Kennedy when she was driving home from an evening prayer meeting (see Union Tribune, May 3, 2017 “Arrests hit same Escondido gang involved in woman’s stray-bullet shooting.”)
The enforcement that had begun earlier helped nab Kennedy’s suspected killer, along with about 140 gang members from the all over the county. Twenty-two were from Escondido.
“When you take that many out of auto theft that’s going to affect your rate,” said Carter. “You look at that and say, ‘Could that have had an effect?’ Absolutely.”
What else drives down auto thefts? If enough people become proactive and don’t leave their keys in their cars or leave their cars open with valuables on the seat, that will affect the statistics. “Sometimes the victims become better and making sure their cars are secure,” said Carter. “We constantly hit that and try to educate the people to warn about people leaving their laptops on the front seat with the car unlocked. We do that all that we can.”
Regarding the department’s enforcement against gangs, Carter said, “We address the gang issues rather aggressively because it’s a quality of life issue. A small group is not allowed to influence the quality of life of the majority.”
So, while positive figures are welcome, the chief views them with apprehension. “It scares me because next month a few people get out of custody and I’m back into negative numbers!”