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By Eric Heinz
When it comes to public safety issues in San Clemente, there is a rift between what data evidence indicates and what it is perceived by the public.
That was the takeaway when San Clemente City Council hosted its annual Long Term Financial Planning workshop on Thursday, March 2, which included discussion of results from the study of public safety issues done by the Matrix Consulting Group, which was hired by the city to conduct the research.
According to the study, San Clemente had a very low rate of violent crime over the course of about four months, but a majority of residents interviewed in the study said they believe crime—any crime—is rising and many said they do not feel safe in the city.
The report identified 60 different recommendations for the city’s police services, which City Council is expected to consider at a later meeting. The suggestions highlighted during the meeting were based on communication with residents as well as crime statistics.
Richard Brady, president of Matrix Consulting Group, said OCSD should work more with the community to develop strategies to address problems and make more efforts to take their concerns into consideration.
“It’s a process of engagement, that says, ‘We’re not going to run away from people who are vociferously concerned about crime and safety in the community,’” Brady said. “You’ve got to do that on an ongoing, weekly basis and quarterly basis.”
Brady said there must be strategies developed that demonstrate to citizens that their concerns are being heard and that their opinions matter.
“When you look at the top-10 types of things that the sheriffs have to respond to, none of them are crimes. They’re all quality-of-life service types of things,” Brady said. “Those 10 things represent 60 percent of the workload that they’re handling. Even during peak times, the calls for service don’t get (more than) above three calls per hour. That leaves a lot of time for proactive things.”
Deputies in San Clemente have more time to be proactive, the study stated, meaning they’re not dealing with issues related to complex cases or constant calls to more complex or dangerous situations.
Brady said instances of violent crimes or felony offenses are fairly rare in San Clemente.
David Moodie, chief of San Clemente Police Services, said Prop 47, which made possession of narcotics and other nonviolent crimes ineligible for jail time, has contributed to “transient” crimes and petty offenses. The effects of Prop 57, which is expected to release many more nonviolent inmates, will also result in increased incidents, Moodie said.
“People are satisfied with the service, but they’re scared,” Brady said. “Police visibility was an issue for about 50 percent of people who responded to the survey.”
Despite these findings, the survey found that 71 percent of the approximately 500 people surveyed are convinced crime in San Clemente is getting “worse” or “much worse.” Brady said 18 percent of those surveyed did not feel safe or comfortable walking around town in broad daylight.
“I can appreciate the survey, and I want to thank the city for doing the survey. It helps us see what the citizens feel,” Moodie said. “Sometimes we don’t get that litmus test from our daily activity and citizens in general. We’re going to try to work harder to rectify that problem.”
Moodie said during the meeting that he intends to create a police task force and hopefully an advisory committee in the near future in order to involve the public and address their concerns. These entities would serve as extensions to community members, but not as direct policymakers.
The study by Matrix Consulting Group and its results were compiled over the course of about four months with town hall meetings, consensus studies and an online survey. The results of the study and recommendations from Matrix are available by clicking here.
Violent Crime Statistics: The Matrix Study, based on Unified Crime Reporting statistics from the FBI, show violent crime in San Clemente rose 44 percent in five years, but this is in part due to the FBI’s redefinition of rape, officials with Matrix Consulting said. The definition is broader definition. Because of this, Brady said the statistics are deceptively higher.
Property Crime Statistics: Property crimes have been reportedly decreasing over a five-year trend, down 11 percent since 2011. But San Clemente is still slightly above the average number of confirmed property crime rates and nonviolent crime compared to Orange County cities of similar size.
The organization of the task force will be discussed at the March 22 City Council meeting, which will include figuring out what parts of San Clemente should be represented. The panel could include two members of City Council, business representatives, local nonprofits, at-large citizens and those with other specific backgrounds.
Chatter on social media regarding crime in San Clemente was criticized during the meeting. Moodie specifically mentioned an incident that took place Monday where two people in a minor traffic accident confronted one another. As that was going on, a man who wasn’t wearing shoes jumped in one of the cars. People jumped to conclusions by posting that this was a carjacking, but that was dismissed by the chief.
Moodie said traffic concerns are common, particularly speeding, which is responsible for most accidents. The chief also said the number of accidents have gone down 19.7 percent since last year, and hit-and-run accidents are also down 34 percent since last year in San Clemente.
“We’re doing something right because we’re reducing accidents,” Moodie said.
Council member Steve Swartz said he would be in support of combining the contracted services with Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano in order to make more deputies available to all cities and to make the area more competitive in asking for additional deputies. OCSD already responds to assist other communities, but each city’s division is separate.
In order to add enough deputies or pay overtime to have the consistent 44 percent rate of time when officers can be proactive, that could cost an additional $750,000 per year to the city. San Clemente is already facing a 6.1 percent increase in costs to police services from last year and 4.1 percent in incremental cost increases after that.
The Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs negotiated those increases last year.
Other issues discussed at the meeting pertained to the perceived increase of homelessness in San Clemente. The point-in-time count, where volunteers took measure of the homeless population in January, will be tallied by mid-May.
Prior to the meeting, several members of the public reiterated desires from past public meetings to increase the number of deputies in San Clemente.
We will have more on the Long Term Financial Plan next week.