Right Goal, Wrong Measure

By Ed Rast

Did you know San Jose residents and business don’t have sufficient information to know if our city is safe?

San Jose frequently quotes CQ Press’s 2008 City Crime Rankings as an indicator of our city’s public safety. In 2008, we were ranked 4th on CQ’s list of “Safest Large Cities in America” (with populations over 500,000) based on the FBI’s “Crime in United States 2007“ data.

CQ Press’ methodology states:

The crimes tracked by the UCR Program include violent crimes of murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault and property crimes of burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft, also called “Crime Index” offenses; the index is simply the total of the seven main offense categories. The FBI discontinued use of this measure in 2004 because its officials and advisory board of criminologists concluded that the index was no longer a true indicator of crime. ….. The consensus of the FBI and its advisory groups was that the Crime Index no longer served its purpose and that a more meaningful index should be developed.

Public safety is consistently ranked as the #1 city budget priority by San Jose’s residents. With that in mind, maintaining our status as the “Safest Big City in America” is still a good goal. But once you looked at why the FBI discontinued its use of the CQ methodology — because it was “no longer a true indicator of crime” — you begin to understand a new measurement is needed.

San Jose’s city administration should not rely on CQ Press’s City Crime Rankings to measure public safety, or set city budget priorities or police staffing levels.

Developing additional, detailed crime comparisons for San Jose and selected large cities in our county and state based on the FBI’s annual “Crime in the United States“ report will provide the Mayor, City Council, residents and businesses with additional information to measure public safety and set police staffing and budget levels.

In addition, there are two public reports that, if published monthly, could assist in police staff and budget allocations and educate everyone about crime and related social issues. The public could then use Community Policing to potentially prevent crimes and also address the social issues that contribute to crime.

Phoenix’s Monthly Count of Actual Offenses Known to Police uses the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) classifications and definitions and is a more comprehensive citywide crime report that what is available in San Jose.

The California Department of Justice’s Adult and Juvenile Criminal Report provides crime and demographic data that could alert city leaders, city administration and residents to potential social or criminal problems such as the drunk-in-public arrest rates. (See Page 2: Misdemeanors - Drunk; Page 4: Adult demographics; Page 6: Juvenile demographics.)

Unfortunately, due to budget shortages, the San Jose Police Department does not have the requested staff or improved technology systems needed to replace it’s decades-old, inefficient manual reports and retrieval system. Either of these would allow SJPD to produce the desired reports I have discussed previously.

National Night Out Recap

By Jim Cogan

Last Tuesday, thousands of San Jose residents joined together with San Jose police officers to celebrate National Night Out. All over the city, officers who walk the beat on the midnight shift came to work early to get the opportunity to meet the neighbors that they serve.

In my neighborhood, over 80 residents came together for the first time in recent memory. It was a wonderful gathering of neighbors and police officers. Two sergeants and six officers attended our event. Amid the ice cream and good conversation I heard a phrase that summarized the entire event: “Now that I know about it, I’ll be on the look out…”

This statement was made by the officer who works the midnight shift on our neighborhood beat. His promise to be on the lookout for whatever was bothering my neighbor is exactly what National Night Out is all about, the community and police working together to protect San Jose. Perhaps they were discussing the recent car burglaries in the neighborhood or a strange car that doesn’t belong to anyone in the neighborhood. Whatever the case, the officer now has some invaluable information and my neighbor knows that that the police are ready to help.

I spoke to the officer, who appreciated the opportunity to meet the residents on his beat. He told me that he never gets to talk to residents, because most of us are asleep when he punches in for his shift. I was impressed with all of the officers who attended our event and speaking for my neighbors, I think we all will sleep a little better. The officers were all very courteous and excited to have the opportunity to meet residents. It really made my neighbors happy as well. Many of them thanked me for organizing the event and talked about how to make it better next year.

In our neighborhood, National Night Out sparked interest in getting organized. In fact, sixty of my neighbors signed up to organize a neighborhood watch and start a neighborhood association. I am confident that together we will strengthen our partnership with the San Jose Police Department and make our neighborhood safer.

Jim Cogan is President of Silicon Valley Crime Stoppers.

Help Us Get Your Stuff Back

By Beat Cop

Part three of a three-part series.

Getting woken up by a late night phone call from the police is almost always a bad thing. Extreme anxiety fills your body as you hear, “Hello this is Officer Fernandez from the Police Department.” The worst case scenario runs throughout your head.

“We have located a laptop computer that may have been taken from your house in a burglary. If you can come down to the police department and identify it, I may be able to release it to you tonight.“ Sounds almost too good too be true. It could be a reality if you follow some simple advice from your local Beat Cop.

Taking the time to inventory items in your home may be the most effective weapon you have in helping the police catch thieves. When an officer responds to your home to take a burglary report, they will look for clues, canvass for witnesses and catalog the items taken. A victim who has serial numbers written down for their stolen iPod, laptop, camcorder and Play-Station will likely get “some or all” of the items returned to them. If however, no serial numbers are available, there is almost no chance the items will ever be returned to their rightful owners.

All police departments in California utilize the same database to track stolen items. High-value items are entered into a nationwide tracking system. Police come into contact with crooks every day as part of our job. It can be frustrating to come into contact with a person on parole for burglary that has three laptops in a backpack and tells you that he “found them.” The officer will surely do their part and have the dispatcher check the serial numbers in the database. But if the victims of the burglary were not able to provide serial numbers to the responding officer, the parolee may be able to walk away with the likely stolen laptops. Even if the officer is able to seize the laptops for further investigation, the owners will likely never be located if no serial number was provided.

Burglars are predictable. If you or your neighborhood have been target for a burglar, it is likely they will continue to victimize that same area. One tool citizens use more frequently is a low-cost home video surveillance system. Home DVR systems are becoming more popular and are helping the police catch burglars. Even if you have not been the victim of a burglary, your video system may have seen the person who broke into your neighbor’s home and is planning on breaking into yours in the near future. Neighborhood organizations and groups are coordinating with each other after a crime occurs on their street. They are sharing information about the crime in emails, community meetings and now videos of suspicious people — and even criminals caught in the act.

Help us help you now and download this simple home inventory form. Walk through your home and jot down the make, model and serial numbers of any item in your house you would like returned to you if ever a burglar makes their way into your home and walks off with your stuff. Take photos of jewelry and items without serial numbers. Tuck the form away and hope it is never needed. If the unfortunate day comes when you do need it, you will have done the most effective thing you can to help the police catch the person who violated you and get your stuff back.

Proudly serving you,
Your Beat Cop

Opening Police Records

By Kathleen Flynn

As a Victim’s Right Advocate and a mediator who has worked with both victims and offenders, I fervently oppose opening Police records to the press and the public for a number of reasons. If the City were to cave in and enact said policy, who would oversee and hold the press accountable for what they print? The answer, absolutely no one! Clearly the media has a problem with grasping the difference between facts vs. fiction, personal bias vs. truth, and sensationalism vs. true journalism. Pick up a paper, or turn on the TV or radio, and read about the woman who murdered her child, ate her brain, tore her face off, and then tried to kill herself. I rest my case.

If there were an open policy for the press to read Police records, and you were a rape victim or if your neighbor molested your child the press would be allowed to read every detail of your assault, or your child’s molestation. You would be re-victimized, and forced to relive that horror every day thanks to sensationalistic reporting.

How many victims of rape or any other victim of violent crime do you think would come forward knowing that their right to privacy is going to be violated by prying eyes? Rape and violent crimes are already grossly under-reported as it is, and this type of “sunshine” isn’t going to benefit a single victim I know or have worked with.

What about the rights of someone who has been falsely accused of a crime, or the families of offenders who suffer hate crimes due to press coverage of the case? What about groups like the ACLU, the NAACP, and others who are lying in wait to sue the Police Department or the City over something they think should have been handled differently? None of these groups are trained or skilled in Police work, policies, or procedures, nor were they at the scene of the crime, nor were they sitting in on interviews of witnesses or offenders yet they would be allowed to make judgments on practices they have no expertise in.

While these are just some of the concerns I have on this topic, let me leave you with this to ponder: How much easier would we be making it on child molesters, rapists, robbers, or gang members to study the way Police investigations are handled so that they could cover their tracks better, or figure out exactly who provided the Police with information on apprehending them so they could take their revenge?

Kathleen Flynn is a professional mediator and community activist.

A Four-Year-Old Mistake

By Ed Rast

Did you know that after police staffing reductions in 2005, San Jose’s property crime rate increased 25%, causing us to lose our “Safest Big City in the United States” ranking after six consecutive years at the top?

The San Jose Police Department in 2005 was required by city administration to reduce staffing because of budget cuts. This brought police staffing back to nearly 1998 levels — though the city’s population had grown 10% between 1998 and 2005 — and forced the department to appropriately prioritize violent crimes against people over property crimes.

The 2005 staffing and budget reductions resulted in many property crimes not being prevented, investigated or cleared due to officer and police staff shortages. Property crimes increased as well as misdemeanor and financial crimes.

If you go to City-Data.com’s San Jose page and scroll down to he chart labeled “Crime in San Jose by Year”, you can see the increase in crime after 2005 in the eight categories used by the FBI to determine the safest cities. (Click a category to compare San Jose’s crime rate to national crime rates in a bar graph.)

Many property crimes like burglaries and vehicle theft are committed by habitual criminals who will continue to commit increasingly more property crimes unless prevented by patrolling officers or arrested after their crimes are investigated. But due primarily to officer shortages, San Jose’s property crime rates are on the rise.

For example, San Jose’s car theft rate first exceeded the national vehicle thief average in 2004, when 4,517 vehicles were stolen here. The rate dramatically increased after 2005 staff cuts to reach 2006’s high of 7,139 stolen vehicles. That and the 6,413 vehicles stolen in 2007 were both almost double the national rate. 2008’s 5,229 stolen vehicles — while a substantially lower number — still exceeds the national average.

Reducing police staffing in 2005 as opposed to adding additional police staff proportional to San Jose’s increased population was not the only factor in the increase in overall and property crime rates, but it was likely a very significant factor. The FBI Crime Report cautions: “Valid assessments are possible only with careful study and analysis of the range of unique conditions affecting each local law enforcement jurisdiction. It is important to remember that crime is a social problem and, therefore, a concern of the entire community. The efforts of law enforcement are limited to factors within its control.”

Crime will predictably increase during recessions due to unemployment, underemployment, homelessness, and reductions in government and non-profit social services.

Further police staffing or budget cuts do not seem to be in the public interest for San Jose’s residents or businesses, especially during a recession. These cuts should not be imposed in the 2009-2010 budget without asking city administration to clearly answer two questions for the City Council and residents:

1. Why have San Jose’s overall and property crime rates increased since 2005 police staff and budget cuts?

2. If proposed reductions to police staffing occur in the next round of budget cuts, what effective actions will be taken during this recession to prevent potentially increased crime rates?

P.S. Thanks for your thoughtful questions on last week's open thread. I will look to answer many of them over the coming weeks.

To Pledge or Not to Pledge

We thought we’d give you another update on the status of the pledge we asked your Councilmembers to sign to recommit to making public safety their top priority.

The scorecard as of our last post: Mayor Reed and seven Councilmembers signed on; Councilmemer Oliverio abstained; and Councilmembers Herrera and Liccardo had not responded.

We’re happy to announce that Councilmember Herrera’s office called to let us know she will make signing the pledge one of her first acts when the Council returns from their Summer recess.

We also saw that Councilmember Oliverio mentioned the pledge in his blog on another website. He explained that he doesn’t sign pledges for interest groups because he doesn’t want to promise anything he may not be able to deliver.

I understand where he’s coming from. But an overwhelming majority of San Jose’s residents regularly list public safety as their top priority. Are the people of San Jose an interest group?

We’re only asking our leaders to reflect the support our public safety officers receive from the community. It’s a pledge of principle.

Later on in his blog, Pierluigi mentions that he’s already got his own public safety pledge posted on his city website. We went there and looked around but couldn’t find it. Maybe he’ll post a link in his blog today. We’ll let you know.

P.S. In case you were wondering, Councilmember Liccardo still has yet to respond.

Rushing to Judgment

By Bobby Lopez

I think President Obama got it right, just not right away.

Last week, he made some negative comments about the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Gates by Cambridge Police. This week, Mr. Obama corrected himself, and he deserves credit for that.

Unless you’ve been on a desert island, you know Prof. Gates was apprehended at his home after Sgt. James Crowley and others responded to a reported break-in there. Prof. Gates refused to provide his identification, which is all the cops needed to see it was actually his house.

If Prof. Gates had simply shown the officers his driver’s license, he could have avoided this mess. Instead, he got angry and accused the cops of racial bias. (I can speak from personal experience this happens a lot – even when a Latino officer, like myself, questions a Latino citizen).

Mr. Obama got caught up in the moment and rushed to judgment without knowing all the facts. At a press conference, he said the officers “acted stupidly."

When I heard Mr. Obama’s statement, it was like deja vu. It reminded me of the reaction of our city leaders to recent news reports of arrest data.

Without waiting for a complete analysis of the facts, some city leaders looked at one set of numbers and decided we have a problem. In general, the City Council allowed itself to be intimidated by vocal activists pounding the podium.

They created a task force to examine the “problem” and had numerous council discussions on the topic. Finally, they brought in an independent group of academics to study the numbers.

As I’ve said before, we welcome any fair and unbiased study of our work. If the academics come back in a year’s time and clearly prove that we do have a problem, then I’ll be the first to admit it, right here on this blog.

But what if they don’t? What if the study finds that the men and women of SJPD acted professionally and fairly? Will our city leaders follow President Obama’s lead and admit a rush to judgment?

And will I get a beer out of it?

Bobby Lopez is President of the San Jose Police Officers' Association.

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