SLO property crimes way up, violence down, police chief says

The San Luis Obispo Police Department reported preliminary crime statistics for 2015 on Thursday.
The San Luis Obispo Police Department reported preliminary crime statistics for 2015 on Thursday.

Losses to property crimes jumped 65 percent in San Luis Obispo last year — an increased loss of more than $1.3 million — even as reported violent crimes continued a nearly steady decrease, according to data from the San Luis Obispo Police Department.

On Tuesday, Police Chief Deanna Cantrell presented the San Luis Obispo City Council with the department’s preliminary 2015 crime statistics, which covered a range of data including traffic collisions, noise complaints, the demand for police service in the downtown core, and calls related to the homeless or people with mental health needs.

Around June of every year, law enforcement agencies across the country submit their previous calendar years’ reported crimes to their respective states’ Department of Justice, which publishes an annual report in the fall. Those figures are further submitted to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for national publication.

No murders were recorded last year, though the city responded to 38 reported rapes, down 19 percent from 2014’s decade-high of 47 rapes, according to data from the San Luis Obispo Police Department. Of the other two most serious violent offenses, robbery and aggravated assault, 14 and 146, respectively, were reported last year, a drop of 13 percent for both from 2014.

However, burglaries, thefts and vehicle thefts continued to be a problem in the city, as they have since November 2014, when voters passed Proposition 47, which reduced all drug possession crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, regardless of the type of drug or amount. Marijuana possession remains an infraction, however, while possessing any drug for sale remains a felony.

The law further mandated that theft, receiving stolen property and forging or writing bad checks be charged as misdemeanors if the amount is $950 or less.

In 2015, the city reported 245 burglaries, an 18 percent increase from 2014. Larceny and theft of motor vehicles jumped 29 and 38 percent, respectively, in the same time period, with 1,501 thefts and 98 motor vehicle thefts. Over the same time period nationally, property crimes decreased by 6.6 percent.

In total, the monetary loss in property jumped 65 percent last year, from approximately $2.08 million to $3.43 million, according to Cantrell’s figures for San Luis Obispo.

Cantrell, who joined the department from Mesa, Arizona, in January, said the reason for the trend is pretty simple: People arrested for drug offenses that are nonviolent and not related to sales are not serving time in custody and not always facing mandated drug and alcohol treatment for their crimes. In turn, many repeat offenders feed their nontreated addictions through the sale of stolen property.

“It’s pretty well-known throughout the country that of the people who commit property crimes, a large majority suffer from some drug or alcohol issue,” Cantrell said Thursday. “(Prior to the law), when someone was arrested for a felony drug offense, they were arrested, served some time in jail, were sentenced to County Jail or state prison and then there was some sort of mandatory treatment for those things. There was some teeth to it, something to be taken away.”

Now, Cantrell said, the department deals with much of the same population of low-level offenders — 10 percent of the population commits about 90 percent of the city’s crimes, she said — who are mostly issued citations to appear in court, as opposed to being booked into County Jail. Much of that population then simply fails to show up to court.

The increase in property crimes is not exclusive to San Luis Obispo. In an April 29 California Police Chiefs Association memo, Robert Lehner, chief of the Elk Grove Police Department, wrote, “The precise (cause) remains to be determined, though our best guess remains ... (the) lack of incarceration for minor offenders combined with lack of supervision of those offenders when released (pre- or post-conviction), leaves these prolific offenders undeterred from committing minor crimes in our cities and towns.”

Cantrell said Prop. 47 needs reform, but several proposed initiatives failed to secure enough signatures to qualify for the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

In addition to crime figures, Cantrell also reported to the council that the number of motor vehicle collisions in San Luis Obispo fell by 6 percent in 2015, with 511 crashes. Thirty-four collisions involving pedestrians represented a 10 percent increase, while collisions involving bicyclists went down 8 percent, with 54 collisions.

Calls for service involving homeless people went up by 22 percent, with 5,499 calls, representing 17 percent of the city’s overall calls for service. Of the total number of calls, 4,666, or 15 percent of all calls for service in 2015, came from the downtown area. Of those, 26 percent involved homeless individuals.

Cantrell said the causes behind the ebb and flow of crime stats can be elusive, and she is proposing the part-time hire of a civilian crime information analyst to make sense of the figures and identify areas where the department can be proactive.

She pointed to one example from the stats: While the number of documented homeless people in the city has decreased by about 35 percent between 2013 and 2015 (a total of 750 to 482 people, sheltered and unsheltered, respectively), the number of calls for service and officer-witnessed incidents involving homeless individuals jumped 22 percent between 2014 and 2015.

“At this point, I really don’t have an answer for that (inconsistency),” Cantrell said.

Beyond identifying hotspots for car burglaries and other crimes, a part-time crime analyst could help the department identify causes behind those sorts of statistical contradictions, Cantrell said. She said her staff will propose to fund that position, possibly through savings from a current vacancy, for the 2017-18 fiscal year.