Crime

North County crime: How Atascadero and Paso Robles compare

Atascadero Police Station
Atascadero Police Station dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The two incorporated cities of North San Luis Obispo County saw mixed results as far as changes in crime in 2014, the latest crime data show.

As The Tribune previously reported, crime data compiled from 2004 through 2014 indicate that reported rapes were nearly three times the national average in the city of San Luis Obispo and a drop in violent crime in South San Luis Obispo County cities appears to coincide with an increase in property crimes there.

Similar trends were not as easy to pinpoint in Atascadero and Paso Robles. Certain violent and property crimes declined or remained steady in Atascadero, the data show, but Paso Robles experienced both increases and decreases in different types of crime.

Statistics also show that, together, crimes reported in the cities of Atascadero and Paso Robles equate to about 23 percent of the county’s total reported crimes since 2004. The two cities make up approximately 21 percent of the county’s estimated 2014 population.

The numbers only reflect reports of crimes — homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny (theft) and vehicle theft — not whether the report resulted in a criminal conviction.

Local law enforcement agencies report their respective raw data every year to the California Department of Justice and the FBI, which review the information and may accept or reject certain numbers.

The California Attorney General’s Office and the FBI publish those numbers in their annual crime reports. Crime statistics are considered preliminary until accepted by the state and federal government.

Data from Atascadero and Paso Robles for 2014 have been submitted and will be formalized in the reports, set to be released in September. Because those numbers are not yet official, comparisons to national rates refer to 2013 rates calculated by the FBI.

Atascadero

Despite several decreases in reports of certain crimes last year, Atascadero’s data indicate little change overall in the past 10 years.

In 2014, Atascadero recorded no homicides, 12 rapes, nine robberies, 53 aggravated assaults, 105 burglaries, 325 thefts and 31 vehicle thefts.

The number of reported rapes has generally remained steady, with about 10 to 13 reported each year. Last year’s per capita rate of 4.1 rapes per 10,000 residents exceeds the 2013 national per capita rate of 3.6 rapes per 10,000 residents for cities of similar size.

The city was above the national rape rate in seven of the past 10 years.

“We’re always wanting to see that number go down,” said police Chief Jerel Haley. “But we have not identified any one reason for (the high numbers).”

He said most rape cases his department deals with are acquaintance situations and that rapes involving a sexual predator unknown to the victim are rare.

The number of reported robberies also stayed mostly consistent since 2004, with between seven and 15 robberies any given year, about half of the national per capita rate. An exception was 2013 when that number shot up to 24, the only year Atascadero surpassed the national rate.

Haley agreed 2013 was an especially violent year, with several high-profile armed bank and convenience store robberies.

“For Atascadero, these are serious crimes,” Haley said. “But in most instances our guys had them solved with people in custody within 24 hours.”

Aggravated assault — an incident involving two or more people that results in moderate to serious injury to at least one party — totaled one of its lowest numbers in a decade last year, yet slightly above the national rate for similar cities.

The number of assaults has fluctuated widely since 2004. In the first half of the past decade, aggravated assaults dropped by more than 50 percent and have hugged the national rate every year since.

In 2012, the department adopted a new electronic records management system and accidentally mixed some, but not all, simple assaults with aggravated assaults in the numbers submitted to state and federal agencies.

“It was our bad,” Haley said. “We went back through the cases with a manual audit and determined the actual number was between 50 and 60. But we’re not going to go back and try to get it changed now.”

The glitch occasionally causes the city grief, as it did in February when the data was partially to blame for an East Coast real estate data collection website listing Atascadero as the 28th “most dangerous city” in the U.S. based on that and other skewed data.

Last year’s property crimes landed well below the 2013 national rate for similar cities, another consistent trend across the past 10 years. Thefts dropped significantly last year and have been in decline since 2011. Burglaries dropped to the lowest number since at least 2004. Vehicle thefts, despite increasing last year, remain far lower than the national rate.

Haley said he expects those numbers to increase in coming years because of the local spike in opiate abuse and Proposition 47, passed by voters in November, which reclassified certain drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.

Possession of serious drugs such as methamphetamine and heroin, as long as the person is not selling it, is now a misdemeanor requiring officers to either cite or book them briefly into County Jail before releasing them. In some cases the courts may not require treatment. “There’s some kid out there getting picked up for something related to his addiction to heroin, and we could put him in jail and maybe he would get treatment,” Haley said. “Now with (Prop.) 47, I come across that same kid and I write him a ticket and he carries on.”

Paso Robles

Paso Robles’ trends are more of a paradox.

Last year, the city documented six rapes, seven robberies, 112 aggravated assaults, 157 burglaries, 588 thefts and 49 vehicle thefts. Most crime categories were below the 2013 national crime rates for similar cities.

Reported rapes have been in general decline since 2008, and 2014’s total was among the lowest reported number in that time, a total of six, well below the national rate.

“The trend of decreasing rapes is something hard to explain but is very welcome,” police Chief Robert Burton wrote in an email. “I am hopeful that all the great public awareness and intervention services we have in our county (i.e., RISE) has helped educate the public that rape is something we will not tolerate.”

RISE is a relatively new nonprofit created through the combination of the North County Women’s Shelter & Resource Center and the Sexual Assault Recovery & Prevention Center of SLO County.

Robberies are also on a general decline, and last year’s rate was only 30 percent of the national per capita rate.

Burton noted that reports of robberies have mostly decreased since 2011, when the department was at an all-time low in staffing levels due to positions left vacant during the recession.

In 2007, the department had 41 sworn officers; it was down to 26 officers by 2011. The department has steadily replenished its ranks, with 33 full-time officers today.

“More officers on the street give us more resources to be proactive in contacting suspicious persons and/or taking bad folks off the streets who commit these crimes,” Burton wrote.

Aggravated assaults, however, have steadily increased since 2010, jumping from 87 to 112 last year, or roughly 38 aggravated assaults per 10,000 residents and more than twice the national rate for similar cities.

Property crimes generally have not followed any specific trends since 2004, either. With the exception of rogue years, thefts have trended upwards while vehicle thefts have mostly decreased since 2004.

Vehicle thefts, up slightly last year, barely exceeded the national rate, with 16.8 vehicle thefts per 10,000 residents.

Like Haley, Burton said property crime is closely related to drug addiction and that his department’s new Special Enforcement Team, which investigates complex drug and gang cases, has made progress in the past year clamping down on illegal drugs.

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