Commentary: Candidates on Crime Concerns Attempt to Thread a Needle

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – At the recent Chamber forum, the question was asked, “The business community, perhaps all of Davis has become increasingly concerned that crime is increasingly rampant in Davis. What first of all, what are your thoughts on that? And then what proposals do you have that might address crime?”

For the most part, the council candidates attempted to thread to the needle on their answer – but the question itself drew some criticism and concern.

Bapu Vaitla responded, “It’s a difficult responsibility the City Council has to both acknowledge when we do see crime or rising, especially in property theft, and make sure that those concerns are being heard. But we also need to give our residents a more holistic picture of public safety. And that means talking publicly and consistently about trends in crime and crime reduction.”

He explained, “We know from recent surveys, for example, that violent offenses and some other categories of crime are in fact declining. And for the crime categories that we see increasing, like property theft or staying stable, we need to highlight what remains to be done around addressing some of these social determinants of crime.”

Kelsey Fortune added, “Whether there is actual crime increase as we did see a slight property crime increase at the beginning of the pandemic, or whether it’s just perceived, we need to be communicating that information with the community so that we don’t see people getting their information from their neighbors on Nextdoor which is anecdotal and not data.”

Fortune also made a point that she believes there also “a lot of unreported violent crime in the category of sexual assault. We live in a college town and this is something that we have not addressed.”

Dan Carson said, “So the city did a do a city survey in the spring that did show an uptick in folks concerns. Identifying crime is a concern. In response to that, I asked, and my council, agreed to ask our chief to look at our crime data and try to see if we’re missing something, because the data that we’ve been seeing showed that early in Covid there was definitely a spike, but things seem to have settled down and stayed flat.”

But Carson cautioned, “it doesn’t mean our citizens aren’t perceiving something that somehow isn’t being caught on that data. We need to look at that information very carefully to understand is it perceptions? Is that national debates over crime issues that are generating more interest in discussion here? Or is there something beyond perception and really happening on the ground?”

Carson also pushed for more police action on traffic safety.

He said, “I think we have need to have more cops riding speeding tickets. We’ve just seen too many crazy episodes, people doing donuts on Lake Boulevard at three in the morning and, and other crazy things going on.”

For Adam Morrill, “I think property crime has increased. I’ve talked to some business owners who’ve been hit by smashing grabs. I was a victim myself. We had our catalytic converter stolen right out of our driveway here. We’re not near the freeway, you got to drive to get to our house. So property crime is definitely an issue. I would in push for more the police department to really engage and promote a neighborhood watch program so that neighbors can kind of keep an eye on things and if they see something suspicious, I mean they can report it to police.”

Gloria Partida responded, “We keep track of those numbers pretty closely and have a lot of conversations with the police department. I actually meet with the police association on a monthly basis.  It’s a real, it’s a real concern for a lot of our citizens. I think that we are still in a relatively safe community, but that is because we do the work to keep it that way.”

While people might quibble on the details of the answers – the candidates generally had the facts correct – violent crime is not going up in Davis, and crime levels have been up and down over the last five years or so.

The public perception on crime is actually split – and fairly accurate.

Crime did lurch to the third highest concern in the spring’s poll, but only ten percent found it to be the top concern – up from four percent in the previous survey.

But breaking it down – 50 percent of the public said crime is about the same.  While 45 percent said it was worse, 31 of percent said somewhat worse and only 14 percent said much worse.

77 percent said they were very or somewhat concerned about car and home break-ins, 49 percent expressed concern about public drug use.  54 percent expressed concern about violent crime and 48 percent about graffiti and vandalism.

What does the data look like?  I got the latest data from the Davis Police Department and it shows not a huge changed – though total arrests were up by a lot, fueled by misdemeanor arrests.  “Larceny stats are up as well. Vehicle burglaries are up while commercial burglaries went down. Vandalism, DUIs, and Drug/Narcotics violations stayed the same.”

But there is a big caveat to this data – the DPD had to transition away from the source data they traditionally use to another source which compiled stats in a manner that was “quite different.

Darren Pytel, the Police Chief, explained,  “One of the main issues is that warrant arrests for felony and misdemeanor are captured as an arrest.  That used to not be the case.”

The problem then is that for things like technical violations, such as Failure to Appear (FTA), it is now counted as an arrest while before it was not.

Thus it shows “as multiple arrests for the same offense, even though its not really in the grand scheme.”

I asked if the increase in the arrest totals is therefore an artifact of the new measure?

He said, “Yes.  Although we are seeing some arrests go up this year.  That was somewhat expected coming out of COVID where activity was quite different.”

For the most part then, the council candidates and police chief have a good measured response to what is happening with crime.  As I have noted previously, given the huge shock to the system, we really won’t know what is happening with crime long-term until the world settles down to a new normal.

In the meantime, most of the responses by council candidates are reasonable – look at the data, accurately describe what is happening to the public, and take into account public concerns.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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