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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Controlling crime and Banning Ranch

New FBI statistical summaries indicate that property crime is up 15% in Costa Mesa. At least some police officers think that the increase is from the influx of criminals.

Remember that the state prison guards’ unions defeated attempts to use privately-owned prisons. And they defeated most efforts to transfer prisoners to other states. Protecting their monopoly caused overcrowding. Drug-crime prisoners already filled the county jails. (Remember your history class about the Prohibition years? This is a sequel. Legislating morals has never worked very well.)

Overcrowded prison ---> increased street crime

So, when courts ordered the overcrowding reduced, the state sent overflow prisoners to county jails. The jails, in turn, released their least-violent prisoners, many that had supported themselves by stealing property. Until recently OC jail sent most of their released prisoners to Costa Mesa – other cities are starting to get their share. (Newport Beach’s property crime stats probably won't be as pretty in the next report.)

What works to control it

In an earlier post we discussed what does and doesn’t work to control property crime (Broken Window Theory). Briefly, the science in this field suggest that community caring (clean up neighborhoods and get neighbor buy-in) works.

Clean up works better than increased misdemeanor arrests. And, increased arrests cost either time lost to patrol or dollars to hire extra officers. Increased social services have been shown to have little effect on property crime.

Citizens, PD and Council share responsibility

Personal efforts to make the overall environment safe are essential. The Broken Window Theory has lots of evidence to support it. Essentially, where graffiti accumulates and where broken windows and trash in the streets are ignored – crime goes up.

Prevention of property crime is a shared responsibility. The citizen is responsible for lighting the perimeter of his property, which generally reduces all crime. Private security cameras collect evidence showing who was in the neighborhood, and occasionally what they were doing.

Just being recorded is a deterrent to the better-trained criminals. (That is, those from criminal-filled families and those exposed to instruction from experts during their jail sentences.)

And, part of personal prevention is reducing incentives and opportunity. Leaving no visible goods in parked cars, even in the church or gym parking lots is part of this. So is keeping the bushes near the building closely cropped.

The PD should

On the police department level, increased patrols tend to deter crime in the area patrolled. So, the ability to pinpoint high-crime areas and concentrate patrol resources, as is being done by CMPD, helps a lot. Less helpful, but still quite important is the increased chance of being charged with a crime because DNA was collected from the scene – even from a car burglary. It doesn’t increase the chance of apprehension, but it increases the chances of conviction for numerous crimes when apprehended.

A significant help for police is citizen awareness; citizens are eyes and ears for good policing. For example, petty criminals take their swag to “fences,” which which can often sell the good stuff before the actual owners awaken. 

According to a detective who spoke to a recent Citizens’ Academy, some of the “fences” are mobile and operate out of vans or motorhomes. They all have high-speed internet connections. A car-mounted GPS can be stolen, sold on Craig’s List, and shipped while the “stealing fee” is being spent on liquor or drugs -- and the ex-owner is still in bed. The police need to know about suspicious vehicles and businesses, especially in strip malls and neighborhoods with lots of apartments.

Get cops back on patrol

Another big help for the PD would be reduced nuisance calls; calls to stop fights, settle family disagreements and investigate unsafe environments. These are necessary services, but in Costa Mesa they are over-represented in small pockets around a few bars, motels and even City parks.

That leads to governmental efforts. The City can support efficient use of technology by CMPD, which it does. It can support neighborhood pride and caring by fixing the streets, which it’s starting to do again. It can improve lighting and remove graffiti. It can encourage citizen participation. Costa Mesa’s Council is doing all of these to a greater or lesser degree. Progress, however is slow.

Throw money and hope it goes away

Or, the City can throw money into more police personnel to investigate crimes already committed, or to sworn officers to make calls at the problem motels. So far, it’s not doing too much of that, although there’s certainly an effort among the seriously-uninformed to buy more police.

Each officer is a fifty-year investment that starts well north of $120K annually and increases every year thereafter. It’s recently been shown that Public Safety personnel in the U.S. live longer after retirement than the average citizen, so the fifty-year part may be seriously underestimated.

Color them naive -- at best

Speaking of uninformed opinions, some folks seem to believe that the influence of a Costa Mesa proclamation is enormous. They think that the Council should make a firm pronouncement of opposition to hauling away the contaminated areas to build houses in Newport Beach’s Banning Ranch project. “That ground should remain natural.” And, they believe that the City should reject mitigation fees from the project to prove that we're serious.

It's as natural as it's going to get right now

The ground has been “natural” for eons, but natural included changes triggered or caused by earth movement, climate change, species use – and more recently, oil drilling. So, should it be kept in the condition it enjoyed in (pick one): 1310, 1545, 1776, 1850, 1963, 2008, or 2013?

If our proclamation could affect a development that helps another city, wow! Terrific influence on other entities. Maybe the City Council should issue proclamations opposing animal cruelty in Utah slaughterhouses. That will teach the abattoir owners a lesson and do lots of other good things.

We won't fight you if . . .

Costa Mesa could certainly cause the Banning Ranch a lot of headaches – and expense – but we couldn't regulate a thing they do and probably couldn't demand much reparation. However, the City has negotiated reparation and infrastructure-building help from the developer. 

The UA (Uninformed Activists) want the City to cut off her nose to spite her face, as the childhood saying goes.

Another word for uninformed, as used in this blog entry, is “dumb.”

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