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Why Fresno's northern crime shift matters

GeorgeByline

Violent crime just about everywhere in Fresno is up.

Property crime is down, but the northeast part of town gets way more than its proportional share of the action.

A reorganization is coming to Fresno Police Department.

Oh, and it’s election season, as if you didn’t already know that.

All this, and much more, emerged Wednesday morning from Chief Jerry Dyer’s monthly CrimeView session at police headquarters in downtown.

Why my focus on northeast?

Fresno Unified school board Trustee Brooke Ashjian is slated to host a three-hour drive-time radio talk show Thursday afternoon on PowerTalk (96.7 FM). His expected guests: City Council District 6 candidates Garry Bredefeld, Holly Carter and Jeremy Pearce.

The mayoral candidates – current District 6 Council Member Lee Brand, Fresno County Supervisor (and former District 7 council member) Henry R. Perea and community activist H. Spees – have already been on the show.

Public safety dominated their comments.

Dyer’s CrimeView session gives hard numbers to the mayoral candidates’ fears and vows. Those numbers also figure to be bracing to Bredefeld, Carter and Pearce.

If I know Ashjian, the District 6 candidates can expect some hard questions about the perennial No. 1 worry among Fresno voters – crime.

Let’s take the February CrimeView session in 12 easy steps.

1.) First of all, we must keep geography firmly in mind.

Dyer divides the city into four policing districts: Southwest, Southeast, Northwest and Northeast. The southern border for the Northwest and Northeast districts is McKinley Avenue.

Fresno, of course, has seven council districts. The southern border for District 6 is Bullard Avenue. Four miles separate Bullard Avenue from McKinley Avenue.

So, as the old cliché goes, we’re not comparing apples to apples when we compare crime in the Northeast policing district to crime in the Northeast council district.

CrimeView does not identify crime statistics and trends by council district.

Still, the Northeast policing district’s crime profile is a valid issue in Campaign 2016.

Most of the Northeast policing district that isn’t in Council District 6 is in Council District 4. Paul Caprioglio this year is running for a second term as District 4’s representative.

And anyone who has spent much time in the Council Chamber watching the interaction between police officials, the council and the Administration knows that public debate – and, in many cases, actual policy decisions – about crime in Fresno often treats the Northeast policing district and the Northeast council district as one and the same.

2.) The Fresno Police Department is already neck-deep in the world of “Big Data.” CrimeView sessions in the second-floor Media Room are full of two-week, 28-day and year-to-date statistics.

I’ll focus mainly on year-to-date (Jan. 1 through Feb. 10) numbers for 2015 and 2016.

In the Northeast policing district, we’ve had no homicides. There have been five rapes year-to-date, compared to three for the same period in 2015. Robberies are up from 20 in 2015 to 33 in 2016. Aggravated assaults are up from 30 in 2015 to 46 in 2016.

Northeast had 53 violent crimes in the first 41 days of 2015. Northeast had 84 violent crimes in the first 41 days of 2016. That’s an increase of 58.5%.

3.) All of Fresno in the first 41 days of 2016 had eight rapes. There were 20 rapes in the first 41 days of 2015.

Rape citywide is down 60%, but up 67% in Northeast.

4.) Here are a couple of other ways to look at the violent-crime trends in Northeast.

Northeast in the first 41 days of 2015 had 53 of the city’s 254 violent crimes. That’s 20.9% of the total.

Northeast in the first 41 days of 2016 had 84 of the city’s 339 violent crimes. That’s 24.8% of the total.

On the broad front, you see what the Chief sees only too clearly: Violent crime in all of Fresno in 2016 year-to-date is up 33.5% (254 in 2015; 339 in 2016).

That’s an increase of 85 in the actual number violent crimes. More than a third of that increase (36.5%, to be precise) was in Northeast.

Dyer noted that violent crime in Fresno declined four straight years (2011 through 2014), but began heading up last year.

VIOLENTCRIME

5.) Let’s go to property crimes. Citywide, we’re seeing a sharp reduction. Total property crimes for the first 41 days of 2016 were 2,352, compared to 2,673 for the same period in 2015. That’s a drop of 12%.

Burglary, for example, is down more than 30% throughout Fresno.

The same trend is found in Northeast. Total property crimes in the first 41 days of 2016 numbered 828, compared to 939 in 2015. That’s a drop of 11.8%.

But Northeast, one of four policing districts, gets far more than 25% of the property crimes.

Northeast’s 828 property crimes in the first 41 days of 2016 are 35.2% of the 2,352 property crimes citywide.

6.) Auto theft is one type of property crime that is trending in the wrong direction. Citywide, Fresno had 479 auto thefts in the first 41 days of 2016, up nearly 18% from the 407 in the same period in 2015.

Northeast in this category isn’t an outlier. Northeast year-to-date in 2016 has had 120 auto thefts, pretty much one-quarter of the city’s total.

7.) If you combine the Northeast and Northwest policing districts to create simply North Fresno, property crime numbers continue to reveal a disproportionate burden on that part of the city.

There have been 1,518 property crimes in North Fresno in the first 41 days of 2016. That is 64.1% of the citywide total.

The North Fresno created by combining Northeast and Northwest had 53% of the violent crimes year-to-date in 2016.

8.) Said Lt. Mike Brogdon, the Northeast policing district’s commander: “We had a pretty rough January.”

9.) None of this is to suggest that Fresnans living in the Southwest and Southeast policing districts are getting an unfair portion of scarce law enforcement resources.

Four of the city’s seven homicides year-to-date for 2016 are in Southwest.

Yet, something is afoot if you combine policing district geographic designations with crime numbers.

Total crimes (property and violent) year-to-date for 2016 in Northeast: 912.

Total crimes (property and violent) year-to-date for 2016 in Southwest: 457.

We all know a popular cultural signpost for Northeast Fresno: Clovis West High School.

We all know a popular cultural signpost for Southwest Fresno: Edison High School.

The crime numbers for 2016 certainly suggest an evolution of victimization. I’m guessing conventional wisdom has yet to catch up to this fact.

10.) Dyer and his top generals on Wednesday painted a familiar picture of crime in Fresno.

There were photos – a dozen, at least – of “most wanted” criminals recently taken off the streets through arrests. Most of the bad guys were gang members. Most were African-American.

That could change.

“In the last couple of months,” Dyer said, “it seems like we’re seeing the Southeast Asian gangs rear their heads again.”

There were 44 shootings in the last 28 days. Of these, at least 22 were gang-related: 11 by African-American gangs, six by Hispanic gangs, five by Asian gangs.

Vehicle burglaries follow a common pattern. Somebody leaves a cell phone on the front seat. Or there’s a stack of change near the dashboard. Or a purse is tucked none-too-effectively under a seat. A thief walks by the car and sees an opportunity. BAM! A window is shattered, the thief’s arm reaches in, a hand grasps the loot. CrimeView gets another statistic.

District commanders said they’re constantly looking for new ways to tell Fresnans to stop tempting the thieves.

11.) No good deed goes unpunished.

Northeast’s Brogdon said the Police Department has done a good job of curtailing crime along the Blackstone Avenue corridor.

But, Brogdon said, “by hitting the Blackstone corridor a little harder, the Cedar (Avenue) corridor picked up.”

In a similar vein, Dyer and his generals worry about the effect of immense multi-unit residential complexes on crime. We’re talking about condo complexes and apartment complexes with hundreds of units.

All too often, it appears, these mini-cities resemble something out of the Old West – a social order dominated by criminals willing to use violence to keep good people in line.

“You have so many places that are multi-family,” Dyer said.

Lt. Mark Salazar, Southeast’s commander, added: “And multi-gang, too.”

12.) Dyer, as he always does after a CrimeView session, held court on Wednesday with reporters.

The ranks of sworn officers, under 700 at one point during the Great Recession, should hit the 760 mark by summer, he said.

By this time next year, a Central policing district should be up and running. Among other things, that most likely will change the geographic boundaries for the Northeast and Northwest districts. Year-to-year crime comparisons by district will then need time to resettle into relevancy.

Jerry Dyer is always quotable. I leave you with several post-CrimeView thoughts from the Chief.

Take note, District 6 candidates Bredefeld, Carter and Pearce.

(a.) “I think Southwest Fresno has made considerable progress in terms of crime reduction, as compared to the last two months. But the district that has really shown the most progress over the years has been the Southeast policing district.

“Southeast Fresno used to be equated to a lot of gang violence, shootings and stabbings. That’s not Southeast Fresno anymore. There’s a tremendous reduction in overall gang violence in Southeast Fresno, and it’s continuing in that way.”

(b.) Domestic violence “is a crime that seems to have started increasing dramatically in 2015.” It’s getting worse in 2016: 57 domestic violence crimes in the first 41 days of 2016 compared to 39 for the same period in 2015. Northeast and Northwest account for 36 of those 57 domestic violence crimes. Northeast and Northwest have seen the number of domestic violence crimes more than double in 2016 compared to the same period in 2015.

(c.) “Most of our robberies – probably 85% to 90% of our robberies – are street robberies. A person is walking down the street and someone by use of force takes their cell phone or purse or jewelry from them. That constitutes a robbery. Those are the ones that really drive our crime rate in terms of violent crime – robberies and aggravated assault.”

(d.) “Historically, there are more property crimes in Northeast and Northwest Fresno. That’s simply because that’s where a significant number of people live. That’s where a lot of the shopping occurs. When you look at River Park, Manchester (Center), Fashion Fair – that’s where a lot of people go and shop. That’s where they leave their cars in parking lots.

“Anytime you have a concentration of people in an area, there’s going to be a potential for increased victims. It’s not necessarily (a matter) of deployment (of resources). Our deployment is fairly equal throughout the four policing districts. But there are times when we have to shift resources based on crime trends. We try to do that on a weekly basis.”

(e.) “Two months ago we had significant increases in vehicle burglaries that were occurring in the Cultural Arts District (north of Fulton Mall). We worked with the apartment owners over there (Granville Homes, for the most part), and they hired security not only for their apartments but also to patrol the streets. We’ve seen dramatic reductions.

“We know that whenever you have an increased presence of active security guards in a particular area, or the active presence of police officers, you have a good chance of driving crime down. That’s what we’ve seen in the Cultural Arts District. We’re continually working with apartment owners and those that are managing properties to get them to hire security. Not every security is good security. They have to hire a company where they are reputable and those individuals are out there actively deterring crime.”

(f.) I noted to the Chief that CrimeView maps suggest there is a belt of high crime activity cutting right through the middle of Fresno, a belt with Olive or Belmont avenues as the southern border and Ashlan or Shaw avenues as the northern border.

Dyer’s response: “I think historically in our city what we’ve seen is concentrated crime in the central part of Fresno. That has shifted, though, over the years further north. It used to be at one time that crime stopped, maybe, at Belmont. Now we’re seeing that crime go all the way up to about Ashlan in some cases. Which is exactly why we’re going to be bringing back the Central policing district this coming year for the purpose of addressing not only that concentrated crime but also having an impact on the Northeast and Northwest districts – being able to reduce the size of their area so they can get the calls for service more timely.”

(g.) Dyer was asked about the arrogance of so many criminals on the streets of Fresno – their contempt for law enforcement and society’s standards.

Dyer’s response: “Any time you decrease your level of accountability, which we have seen through Assembly Bill 109 (prison realignment) and the passage of Proposition 47 (reduced penalties for some crimes) – it’s the lack of accountability on the part of individuals involved in criminal activity. When you have that occur, there is not only a sense of empowerment on the part of the individuals, but (also) a sense of defiance. And it’s not uncommon for some of these individuals to tell police officers, ‘You can’t touch me’ or ‘I won’t stay in jail.’ They understand what AB 109, Prop 47, have done.

“It has allowed for 45,000 fewer people to be in California prisons and it allowed for more criminals to be on our streets. That is the result of both of those pieces of legislation. It makes the job of our police officers much more difficult at a time when we have fewer police officers today than we did seven or eight years ago. That’s the reality we face today. When you combine that with some of the other societal ills like mental illness – some 40% of the calls that we respond to involve individuals who are suffering from some sort of mental health (problem).

“It’s a very challenging era that we are policing in – because of that lack of accountability.”

George Hostetter
George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.

1 Comment

  1. Focus on the northeast? Because that’s where the money is. About time they felt what the rest of the city has felt for years.

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