Homicides, assaults and burglaries are down but rapes and robberies are on the rise
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
VISALIA – Crime increased slightly last year but is showing a downward trend over the last decade, according to the Visalia Police Department’s annual report.
Released last week, the 2017 Annual Report shows that overall crime is up just 1% over 2016 but down more than 17% from 2007. Arrests dropped 3% from 2016 and 8.6% from 2007 with the number of both adults and juveniles being arrested dropping by 1% and 22% respectively last year.
Gang related crime is down from last year and over the last 10 years. The Special Enforcement Unit (SEU), responsible for monitoring and suppressing gang activity, reported a three-year low in gang related homicides and a 10-year low in both gang related assaults with a deadly weapon and home shootings. In the last 10 years, the department has increased preventative measures such as probation searches and field interviews (36%, 27%) and a dramatic decrease in arrests (-57%) and seized firearms (-38%).
“2007-2008 were very violent years in terms of gangs in Visalia,” said Police Chief Jason Salazar. “We took a very strong approach on the enforcement side but also had a lot community support.”
This unit’s effort were bolstered by Tulare County Agencies Regional Gang Enforcement Team (TARGET) task force. Created by Attorney General Kamala Harris in 2012, TARGET, which includes officers from the Visalia and Tulare police departments, Sheriff’s department, CHP, Homeland Security, and Department of Justice. Salazar said the task force struck major blow to gangs in Tulare County through Operation Street Sweeper in 2010 and Operation Red Sol in 2015. Both operations targeted high ranking gang officials in an effort to dismantle the chain of command and disrupt their illegal activities. Eighty-one gang members were arrested in Red Sol with felony charges ranging from conspiracy to commit homicide, attempted homicide, robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, extortion, home invasion, weapons possession and sales of narcotics. It resulted in the largest criminal complaint ever filed in Tulare County Superior Court totaling nearly 450 pages.
“Those gangs are not gone and they are still a problem but we were able to mitigate some of their impact on the community,” Salazar said.
The TARGET task force made 56 arrests, conducted 60 probation searches, 26 parole searches, served 34 search warrants, and seized a total of 20 firearms and 12 ounces of narcotics last year.
Despite a 13% increase in population since 2007, violent crime cases are down 4% over that same time. There were nine homicides in 2017, one less than the previous year and three less than 2007. Assaults are down 12% from the prior year and 25% from a decade ago. Burglaries saw a similar decrease of 16% from 2017 and 24% from 2007.
Community members may have played a role in preventing violence crimes as the Violent Crimes Unit received 341 anonymous tips, a 74% increase from the year before. The unit was also proactive by tracking nearly 300 registered sex offenders to make sure they were in compliance.
But not all violent crimes were down. Rapes and robberies both significantly increased by 21% and 18%. Rape has seen a 53% increase over the last 10 years while robberies are down 8% of that same time. Salazar said rapes are seeing higher numbers because of a 2012 decision by the Department of Justice to change the definition of the crime to include any non-consensual sex. Robberies are also up despite a change in definition. The monetary threshold for grand theft was increased from $400 to $950 as part of Proposition 47, a 2014 statewide initiative that reclassified many non-violent felonies to misdemeanors.
Thefts increased by 16% last year and anytime the suspect involved in those cases threatened someone or resisted arrest, those charges were increased to robbery.
“Many of those committing crimes are not taken off the street because of Proposition 47 and they continue to affect our community,” Salazar said.
Surprisingly, the amount of marijuana seized by officers has increased significantly in the first full year since the drug was legalized for recreational use by adults. Under Proposition 64, people over the age of 21 are allowed to have up to one ounce with them, yet the amount of marijuana seized increased from just under 16 pounds in 2007 to just over 1,900 pounds last year. Seizures of other drugs increased tenfold from 6 to 60. Arrests for the Narcotics Unit were up by a quarter despite search warrants being down a third.
Police calls for service were down 9% in 2017, a larger percentage increase than fire and animal control, but made up about 85% of calls. One of the biggest increases in calls for service over the last 10 years has been for transients, or homeless people. The number of calls for homeless was more than 10 times higher last year than in 2007. But there is hope. The Homeless Outreach & Proactive Enforcement (HOPE) team, has yet to complete its first full year of operation. After a pilot project in 2016, the specialized response team did not officially become a permanent fixture in the department until May 2017.
“This is the biggest challenge and a major quality of life issue for our community,” Salazar said. “The good news is that the HOPE unit responded to 54% of all calls for transients, which frees up our patrol officers to spend more time on other crimes.”
There were about half as many traffic collisions last year than a decade ago, with a significant drop in the number of property damage collisions and an unfortunate jump in the number of fatal collisions, from four in 2007 to 14 last year. The Traffic Unit issued more than 9,000 citations last year, with more than half being parking tickets and more than a quarter being speeding tickets. Motor vehicle theft dropped by 6% last year and 20% over the last 10 years. Other thefts were up 16% over the prior year but down 11% over 10 years.