No Such Thing as Victimless Crime

By Kathleen Flynn

Part of my job as a mediator is to work with both adult and youth offenders to ensure restitution is paid to their victims. Much of the difficulty comes in getting offenders to recognize the victims behind their crimes. Some offenders think that they haven’t hurt anyone, so their crime is no big deal.

Some examples of crimes that offenders view as victimless are shoplifting, vandalism, graffiti, theft from large companies, and robbing people of means. There is a misconception that the victims in these cases can absorb the loss because they’re rich or insured. The reality is that there is no such thing as a victimless crime.

Theft from any business requires the company to compensate for losses by raising consumer prices, lowering wages to employees, or limiting work hours to cut down on expenses for employee health insurance. Companies will also purchase added inventory insurance and pay for security guards, cameras, and other theft prevention devices, further shrinking employee wages and raising consumer cost.

Graffiti and vandalism often times create an even greater hardship for small businesses and homeowners. An owner has to pay someone to clean or repaint their vandalized property so its value doesn’t drop and customers keep coming back. Depending on how badly the property is damaged, vandalism also raises an owner’s insurance rates. These victims also experience a great sense of emotional outrage because many have worked all their lives to attain their business or home.

Financial hardship, outrage, and fear are some of the byproducts that go unseen by an offender while in commission of a crime. When companies or homeowners file insurance claims due to crime, the insurance company raises rates on the rest of us to compensate for their loss. When one home is robbed, neighbors become fearful that they will be next.

As my supervisor, Brohne Lawhorne, says, “When someone commits a crime, it is like dropping a pebble in a pond. It has consequences that are far-reaching to many unseen people.”

Working Together for Safety

By Ed Rast

Do you know what constitutes “Community Policing“ and how it reduces crime in San Jose?

The basic principal is to bring our many diverse neighborhoods, residents, and businesses together with their local beat officers to achieve a common goal. Community policing takes the view that police and citizens are co-producers of public safety services, jointly responsible for reducing crime and improving the quality of life in their neighborhoods. To get a better idea, have a look at this.

San Jose is known nationwide for our highly effective community policing programs like: Neighborhood Watch; Personal, Workplace, and Senior Safety; our many Crime Prevention programs; and National Night Out. You can visit the SJPD website to find out more.

Community attitudes toward police and fire officers can significantly affect the quality of public safety, especially in dense downtown, high-crime, and gang-heavy neighborhoods.

Our understaffed police depend heavily on neighbors to report criminal activity and help identify suspicious behavior. Cooperation like this is what gives San Jose a lower crime rate than almost every other large city in America.

Getting to know your local police officers face to face helps you understand their concerns and workload and helps them to understand the diverse people, issues, and concerns of the neighborhood they’re protecting. Misunderstandings occur when people do not reach out or communicate frequently.

Here are some examples of what you, your family, and your neighbors can do to help improve public safety in San Jose while growing the quality of life in your neighborhood:

  • • Let your neighborhood police officers know you appreciate their hard work keeping your neighborhood safe.
  • • Participate in community policing, including Neighborhood Watch and crime prevention programs.
  • • Attend your neighborhood association meeting, where time is often scheduled for residents and neighborhood police to discuss local crime issues and what can be done.
  • • Attend National Night Activities on Tuesday, August 4, 2009 (in most neighborhoods) Visit the SJPD website for more information.

Crime Stoppers Report

By Jim Cogan

This is the first in a monthly series detailing the work of Silicon Valley Crime Stoppers.

Dozens of presentations explaining Silicon Valley Crime Stoppers have taught me that people are most interested in the cases our program has helped to solve. In that vein, I asked Protect San Jose if I could write a monthly blog about our work.

This month, I want to highlight three cases:

In the first case, there was a report of a drug dealer peddling at a San Jose high school. The tip came in thanks to our Campus Crime Stoppers program that provides students with the opportunity to call or email us with information. San Jose police officers went to the school and found the suspect. They found a stolen police badge and arrested him for theft. Additional charges are forthcoming.

In the second case, a tip came in about drugs being sold out of a house in South San Jose. Our Officer Liaison passed the tip along to San Jose Police Department Metro unit. Metro officers investigated the tip and gathered enough evidence to get a search warrant. They searched the home and seized $3,500 dollars worth of drugs and five guns.

The last case is ongoing. The suspect was working as a janitor at a San Jose high school when it was discovered that he possessed a large quantity of child pornography. Young victims who had been molested by the suspect came forward, and the suspect fled.

Police had no idea where he was, and so, in January, we aired a radio spot about the case. After the story aired, we received a tip that the suspect was hiding out in Mexico. The information was passed along to the United States Marshals, who set up a sting with Mexican authorities. The suspect was arrested and is currently fighting extradition.

All three of these cases illustrate how valuable good information is to arresting criminals and how effective the Silicon Valley Crime Stoppers program is at getting that information in the hands of police. The community provides the information, and the police build the cases. Together, we protect San Jose.

Jim Cogan is President of Silicon Valley Crime Stoppers. You can visit their website to find out more about the program.

What’s in your budget?

By Bobby Lopez

As Scott Herhold points out in yesterday’s Mercury News, I don’t have a problem speaking my mind. I’ll share my honest opinions, and if I make a mistake, I’ll admit it.

But I know that some people are afraid to say what they really mean. They won’t call out the mistakes of elected leaders or even reckless activists. They shy away from giving their honest opinion because they don’t want to ruffle anybody’s feathers.

But contrary to what Mr. Herhold says in his column yesterday, I did not intend to “pick on” the Mariachi Festival. I only used it as an example of spending that could — and should — be directed toward more vital services in times of crisis such as we face today.

I hate it when folks at City Hall cut checks left and right for non-essential services, then cry poor every time they sit down to negotiate new contracts with their employees or decide how many officers we can have to patrol our neighborhoods.

Yes, I could have mentioned the San Jose Jazz Festival, Christmas in the Park, the Rock 'n' Roll Half-Marathon, or the San Jose Rep — all events that the community enjoys which draw attention to our city. (Thanks for the tips, Scott!) But if our public safety budget were cut even more than it already is to pay for these events, what kind of city would we be drawing attention to?

This isn’t a debate about the merits of the Mariachi Festival or any other cultural event. It’s about choices. In difficult times, tough choices have to be made. That’s what we do with our budgets at home. During tough times, we all have to focus on the essentials and cut out luxuries like vacations (or festivals).

Pete Constant made that point well in his blog on this site yesterday morning. Is anyone willing to spend $50,000 to advertise the Mariachi Festival this year while eliminating $55,000 for community CPR classes? (Scott?) This is one choice that doesn’t reflect the priorities of our residents.

With that in mind, I’d like to open this debate to suggestions from you, our readers. What are some things you think the city spends money on that are wasteful or unnecessary?

We’ll check the comments for the best suggestions and include them in a future blog. Or, if you want anonymity, you can use our contact form on this site.

Have a great weekend, and stay safe out there.

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

San Jose’s Budget: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

By Pete Constant

The City of San Jose’s budget has been the center of conversation for quite some time now. Worry and frustration has turned to happiness and accomplishment. But before we break our arms patting ourselves on the back, I think we ought to evaluate the good in the context of the bad — and the ugly.

The Good

We have a balanced budget, on time.

This represents a significant accomplishment given that the San Jose, like most governments, faces some serious financial issues.

Most importantly, this budget preserves critical public safety services by restoring the Park Rangers, the Horse Mounted Unit, a Traffic Enforcement Team, police patrol staffing, the Crime Prevention Unit, and staffing for two fire stations that were slated for closure. These are all essential city services that the public relies on and deserves.

The Bad

This year’s $85 million deficit comes on the heels of seven years of deficits, bringing the cumulative shortfall to $425 million. Deferred infrastructure repairs and improvements have an estimated value of over $800 million – not counting the needs of our city and regional parks. Then there are the other long-term liabilities like City Hall debt service, unfunded retirement, and health care liabilities.

Unfortunately, there seems to be no end to the bad news. Sales tax revenues have fallen far below estimates. Property tax revenues continue to fall. The state is looking to take and borrow money from cities in an attempt to balance their budget. There is no way to predict if all of this will wreak havoc our newly-balanced budget. Surely, we will be back to the balancing act in just a few short months.

The Ugly

We have a budget system that is "broke" — and there doesn’t seem to be a will to fix it.

San Jose’s budget process is clearly in conflict with the needs of the general public. Time after time, survey after survey, email after email, the residents of San Jose have made it clear: Public safety is their number one priority. Yet our process brought a proposed budget to the council that contained draconian cuts to public safety.

CPR classes were slated for elimination, saving $55,000, while marketing for the Mariachi Festival was added, at a cost of $50,000. This is just one example of bureaucratic priorities out of sync with the priorities of our residents.

In San Jose, it seems, all budget dollars are equal. A dollar for advertising is equal to a dollar for training that can save someone’s life. A dollar for buying refreshments at a community meeting is equal to a dollar for crime prevention.

I think this is wrong! I hope you do, too.

As the council voted to pass the budget, I pleaded with my colleagues to change the process. I urged that we categorize spending into four simple categories: things we must do, things we should do, things we would like to do, and, of course, things we should not do.

Once we do that, we must prioritize spending. Fully fund the things we must do, then fund the things we should do, and then — if the money’s available — start to fund the things we would like to do. And by all means, we need to shy away from things that have nothing to do with the responsibilities of local government.

Only then will we give our residents the essential public safety services they deserve, provide the infrastructure we need, and meet our obligations to our employees.

Pete Constant is in his first term on the San Jose City Council representing District 1 (West San Jose).

Dispute Resolution Offers Relief

By Christian Hemingway

Are you having problems with your teenager or another family member? Are you involved in a dispute with your landlord, employer, or employee? Have you called the police about a habitually noisy neighbor or filed a grievance with the Small Claims Court? Are you going through a divorce and need help dividing property or reaching a visitation agreement?

You’re not alone. Conflict is a normal part of life for each of us. Avoiding it only makes a bad situation worse and, in some cases, can lead to horrific consequences. When it reaches a point of destructive behavior or causes emotional harm, then it is time to reach out and get help before things get out of hand. But where can you turn?

The County’s Dispute Resolution Program (DRPS) offers assistance to all members of the community free of charge. Anyone can seek the assistance of a certified mediator in resolving just about any conflict they may be experiencing.

The only thing required for a successful mediation is two or more people voluntarily participating in a collaborative effort to find their own solution to a problem with the guidance of an expert mediator. More often than not, a mediated solution is more amenable to both sides than what could have been decided in a courtroom.

DRPS is home to three divisions: Juvenile Justice, Small Claims Court, and Community. The program also offers training for individuals or groups interested in learning the principles of conflict resolution and communication.

The Dispute Resolution Program is located in the Office of Human Relations at the County of Santa Clara Buidling, 70 West Hedding Street in San Jose. For more information, contact Program Coordinator Brohne Lawhorne at (408) 792-2330 or go to the DRPS website.

San Jose: Budgeting for Disaster

By Ed Rast

San Jose‘s Operating Budget will mark its eighth consecutive year of budget deficits — in both good and bad economic times — when the 2009-10 version is approved today by the City Council.

A ongoing national recession stands to reduce sales taxes and other revenues, making our operating deficit even worse than the $73 million shortfall we already face. But we would be facing deficits without the current malaise because San Jose does not generate sufficient revenue to fund the services necessitated by its growing population, which just last month crested one million.

California cities receive very low percentages of property taxes and sales taxes, which get funneled up to Sacramento. They depend instead on local sales taxes, fees, fines, assessments, and assorted other revenue to pay for city services.

So, where exactly does San Jose get its money? To get an idea, have a look at this document, available on the City website. While you have that open, have a glance at this to see where our money is directed.

In recent years, a wide variety of numbers have been thrown around when it comes to San Jose’s public safety budget. When reading the city budget documents, one begins to understand the confusion:

Public safety (police, fire, and emergency services) accounts for $445,256,362 or 64% of our proposed $698,020,948 General Fund Budget but only 38% or $446,068,053 of the proposed $1,160,988,879 All Funds Operating Budget.

An average American city our size spends half of its operating budget on public safety. Looking only at the general fund budget, you’d think we were over-funding public safety. But seen in the greater context of the all funds budget, public safety is drastically under-funded in San Jose.

We need more revenue from sources outside the general fund to fully support essential city services like public safety. In other words, our City Administration needs to start thinking outside the box.

Public safety is said to be he highest budget priority of our residents and city leaders, but we will continue to see year after year of staff and budget reductions until the City Council clearly defines “essential city services” and funds those services to meet national standards of performance.

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