Rape, robbery and violent crime reports increased in SLO last year, data shows

Reported crime in San Luis Obispo spiked last year — including a big jump in rape, robberies and other violent crimes.

The latest crime data, released by the city’s police department, reported 52 rapes in 2018 compared with 37 the previous year — a 41% increase.

“With the rise of the #MeToo movement, women are starting to report sexual assaults more,” said SLO Police Chief Deanna Cantrell, who presented the information at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Cantrell said statistics from RISE, the SLO-based nonprofit that provides crisis intervention and treatment services to survivors of sexual assault, show that 90 percent of sexual assault victims don’t report the crimes to law enforcement.

Police now can get access to data that includes those who don’t want to involve police, but who have suffered sexual assault, through the Victim Link website portal.

Five of the 2018 sexual assaults in the city were tied to Uber driver Alfonso Alarcon-Nunez, who allegedly targeted intoxicated women who requested rides through the ride-sharing app. Alfonso Alarcon-Nunez is facing a trail related to the allegations.

Additional data show that robberies (considered violent and defined as taking property from someone by force or threat of force) were up 45% with 32 incidents reported in 2018 versus 22 the year prior.

Cantrell said that of the robberies in 2018, 16 of them were shoplifting incidents “gone bad” in which clerks or others struggled with a thief trying to steal store products. That compared with four of those types of incidents in 2017.

“We don’t want people to confront shoplifters because they could get hurt or killed,” Cantrell said. “It’s just not worth it.”

Overall, violent crime jumped 14%.

Key non-violent data included a spike in burglaries (235 in 2018 versus 174 in 2017, a 35% increase). Burglaries are defined as entry into a building illegally with the intent to commit a crime, specifically theft.

Cantrell said that despite the increase, the 2018 burglary total was below the average over the past five years of 243 burglaries.

Cantrell noted that in 2018, a crime syndicate from Oakland that swept through the city and burglarized properties, which accounted for 13 cases the department felt it could prove with evidence. There were another 20 that SLO Police believe the group was involved in but couldn’t prove.

Cantrell added that about 70 percent of burglaries were attributed to crimes without forced entry, indicating the thief was able to get in from an unlocked door or window.

“You have to lock things up, houses especially,” Cantrell said. “People might say, ‘We didn’t use to have to in SLO.’ But it’s a reminder that you should.”

Crimes in decline year-over-year included motor vehicle theft (78 in 2018 compared with 99 in 2017, a 21% drop) and larceny (1,529 in 2018 and 1,558 in 2017, a 2 percent dip). Larceny is defined as theft of personal property.

DUI arrests were down from 364 in 2017 to 329 in 2018.

Calls for service relating to homeless people accounted for 23% of all calls for service citywide compared to 21% last year.

As a way to help address incidents with homeless, Transitions Mental Health Association (TMHA) was awarded a contract from County Behavioral Health and worked with SLOPD to hire John Klevins, a social worker who conducts outreach in the city to address issues and get to know the homeless community. The report placed the homeless population at 411.

The department also has benefited from a crime mapping system that allows police to check with people with home surveillance cameras who voluntary register on a police data system. Their footage helps capture information that can lead police to suspects.

A crime analyst position, which became full time in 2018, also has helped solve crimes by gathering and interpreting data to assign staff accordingly.

The department also has a designated area where people can make business transactions, such as a Craigslist sale, where the exchange is recorded on camera.

Challenges for the department have included hiring and retaining employees; Cantrell cited perceptions of younger people about police work as a career, as well as less attractive retirement packages than in previous years.

“Hiring/retention continues to be a major challenge for both sworn officers and civilian communications personnel,” Cantrell wrote in a staff report. “In 2018 and continuing in 2019, SLOPD has focused some of our recruiting efforts on hiring police officers.”

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Nick Wilson covers the city of San Luis Obispo and has been a reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo since 2004. He also writes regularly about K-12 education, Cal Poly, Morro Bay and Los Osos. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley and is originally from Ojai.