Violent Crime Drops by 30%

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By Andrea Adelson | LB Indy

Violent crime dropped by 30 percent in Laguna Beach last year, while illegal activity related to property, such as thefts and break-ins, declined by 13 percent, according to statistics compiled annually by the police department and released last week.

Laguna Beach is not alone in reporting declines in crimes considered violent – 39 compared to 56 in 2012 — which include homicides, rape, robbery and assault, Capt. Jason Kravetz said in a statement. “Several jurisdictions are experiencing similar patterns which can possibly be attributed to the improving economy and enhanced community outreach efforts,” he said.

While pleased with the reduction in crime, “we all play a part,” pointed out Chief Paul C. Workman, urging residents and visitors to avoid becoming crime victims by locking cars, hiding valuables and activating car alarms.

Despite the drop in reported crimes for the year, in recent months Larry Bammer, president of the Laguna Beach Police Employees Asssociation, has pressed the town’s City Council to increase the size of the 47-person sworn force and add a drug-sniffing dog. The 84-person department’s $14 million budget is the largest expenditure in the city’s general fund, according to the city budget.

Crime statistics, which show a 9 percent decline in narcotics arrests for the year, don’t reflect the level of drug activity in the town, according to Bammer, a former narcotics detective who now specializes in fraud investigations. The recent arrest of two teen-age girls for suspicion of smoking heroin in a high school restroom, he argued, represents the tip of an iceberg.

While the report points out a number of investigative successes in 2013, the year will remain indelibly marked by the September death of Jon Coutchie, the second officer in the department’s history to die in the line of duty.

The more routine incidents the department considers of significance in 2013 include arrests of gang members accused of a home invasion robbery, the arrest of a bank bandit, the conviction of Matthew Dragna for the murder of a Laguna Beach man and collecting 100 pounds of unused prescription drugs with a drop box.

Police also cite the installation of nine video cameras, which monitor vehicles entering and exiting and in six other locations in the downtown area.

The report shows the number of DUI arrests dropping precipitously to 374, a 40 percent decline from 623 in 2012. Citations also declined 11 percent to 35,601, compared to 40,050 the year before. Weapons crimes, though, rose 67 percent – 20 incidents compared to 12 the year previously.

The number of emergency calls declined 6 percent to 2,371, while the department’s clerks fielded 23,272 non-emergency calls, a 2 percent increase. Altogether, the department responded to 41,199 calls in a year. The average response time for emergencies declined to four minutes, 27 seconds, the fastest average in the previous five years.

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