Crime in Laguna Declines

Photo by Ted Reckas. Arden Deshon Reneau was arrested by law enforcement officials after a car chase beginning in Dana Point in January 2010.

Laguna Beach experienced a 10 percent decrease in major crimes and a 14 percent decrease in petty crimes last year, according to a police report.

The downward trend is not unique to Laguna, but has been occurring across the nation, though some locally implemented measures are believed to have contributed to the decline, police Lt. Jason Kravetz said in a statement on Friday.

California’s three-strikes law, the availability of DNA information to solve recent and past crimes, and a shift of traditional petty property crimes to less likely to be reported Internet frauds also contributed to declining statistics, the statement said.

While every city wants to see crime decline, Larry Bammer, president of the Laguna Police Employees Association, is skeptical of the findings and predicts crime rates will reverse direction because the department is fielding fewer officers and hiring rookies.

Locally, the department issued 25 percent fewer citations and made 16.7 percent fewer warrant arrests last year, decreases likely due to the programs supported by the city to address homelessness, according to Kravetz. Those numbers have dropped back in line with the historical average for those categories. Citations and warrant arrests both peaked in 2009, when a legal challenge to the city’s anti-camping ordinance prompted Laguna to open a year-round temporary shelter for homeless people.

Juvenile crimes also dropped by 60 percent to 11 incidents last year.

A sector steadily gaining over the last four years, though, are driving under the influence arrests, up 21 percent over the previous year due to the department’s focus on this area and state funded DUI grant programs. But 2010’s 505 arrests still don’t match 2005’s total of 553.

The number of parking citations issued dropped 18 percent to 35,399 and ticket revenue fell 20 percent to $1.3 million in 2010, down from a peak of 50,798 citations and $1.8 million collected in 2008, the report says.

Why incidents of rape, assaults, threats, vandalism and juvenile crime have declined are not clearly identifiable, Kravetz said.

Last week, the City Council froze hiring of another officer after a trainee undergoing training was terminated, according to Bammer. The department of 45 sworn officers, including the chief and three lieutenants, is now staffed with four fewer sworn officers than in 2007 and a community services officer who retires June 30 is not likely to be replaced, said Bammer, who has asked city officials to unfreeze police positions though hiring is frozen elsewhere in the city.

The department has also cut non-sworn positions, such as the elimination of a fulltime jailer, which forces officers to spend more time in the station processing those arrested than on the road, Bammer pointed out. The salary-saving practice of only hiring recruits also seems like a risky investment when they wash out, he said. “They don’t see the potential ramification,” said Bammer of council members, who met with Mayor Toni Iseman recently to plea for the installation of police video cameras in key locations to assist in crime investigations.

“If they are continuing to freeze positions, something like this would help. If I can’t have the cop, give me the cameras,” he said.

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