MARTINEZ -- The number of crimes in the city is down in nearly every category, and felony arrests are up.

Police officers who were hired and trained in 2013 have already made a difference, according to Capt. Eric Ghisletta, who noted that adult felony arrests are up by 47.75 percent from March 2013-February 2014. He attributed it to the end of the training period for new hires, more personnel on the street, and progress with community policing.

Residential burglaries are down by 23.89 percent, and assaults dropped by 28.76 percent. Commercial burglary is the only category where there was a statistical increase, up from 78 in 2012-2013, to 114 in 2013-2014.

At the Public Safety Committee meeting March 31, members hypothesized that it could be due the continued weak economy or the fact that shoplifting is categorized as commercial burglary.

Ghisletta described how the department divided the 13-square-mile city into 24 neighborhood areas about two years ago, with a particular officer assigned in each area and who has worked to become a specialist there.

"People get to know them as the neighborhood police officer," Ghisletta said, adding that the officers develop relationships, and useful background knowledge specific to that area. "When you have an ongoing neighborhood dispute for example, resolutions are much more effective if the same officer, who understands the situation, goes there than when a hundred different officers answer the call."

Some crimes remain unreported, and Ghisletta emphasized the importance of calling police if a resident is a crime victim or is aware of criminal activity in the neighborhood.

A committee member mentioned the successes of an online warning system called Nixle: Building Safer Communities that is used in Oakland.

"We have it," Ghisletta said, noting that it is used primarily for major public safety events, Amber Alerts, and missing persons in Martinez, where there is no regular need to post shootings or riotous behaviors.

On another matter, Ghisletta said there has been a significant increase in parking tickets -- 72.65 percent -- resulting in more than $100,000 in revenue for the quarter.

"I seriously question the wisdom of increasing the number of parking tickets while downtown merchants have to compete with free parking at shopping centers in a lackluster economy, even if it does increase city revenue," Councilman Mike Menesini said. Others at the meeting acknowledged Menesini's point.

While the city can use the extra $38 per ticket, Ghisletta explained that Martinez it is not allowed to keep all of it.

"All but about $15.40 of every ticket is paid out to the state, the county and for a variety of charges, such as the jail (on a monthly basis)," Ghisletta commented. "It is $3 here, $3.50 there ..."

Menesini mentioned that the idea of outsourcing to capture more revenue has been discussed.

"We have not fully explored it," Councilwoman AnaMarie Avila Farias said after the meeting.

The city of Martinez bears the cost of enforcement. With benefits and overtime, one full-time parking enforcement officer could cost $80,000 to 100,000 per year, according to Avila Farias.

The idea of making it easier to avoid tickets by providing parking meters that accept credit cards was suggested.

"There are already about 170 (recently purchased credit card meters) in the city, primarily for the use of jurors at the Contra Costa County courts," Ghisletta said.

There has been an internal parking study and a parking garage is planned, but progress on a resolution to parking problems has been "piecemeal," Avila Farias said later. "We really need a study beyond the internal study, and a more comprehensive, strategic approach for both the short term and longer term to resolve the parking issues."

Contact Dana Guzzetti at dguzzetti10@gmail.com.

or call 925-202-9292.

Leanne Peterson, executive director of Main Street Martinez, later echoed the thought.

"The parking issue is not just about parking tickets. There are a lot of other factors tht need to be addressed. "

Contact Dana Guzzetti at dguzzetti10@gmail.com or call 925-202-9292.

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