The Feb. 12 town hall meeting in Veterans Hall on crime was well attended and, not surprisingly, well-mannered. Piedmonters are clearly concerned by the rising crime rate, but displayed their typical commitment to community approaches in solving the problem.
Police Chief Rikki Goede gave a comprehensive presentation on crime prevention measures residents can undertake to secure their homes that can be viewed on KCOM and online at http://www.ci.piedmont.ca.us/video. One interesting comment from the chief was that she is not a big believer in crime statistics and prefers the "climate" as a measure of crime prevention. As a council member, though, I need a quantitative measure of crime rate and reduction to guide the use of tax dollars and inform the public.
Since 2010, crime in Piedmont has increased at an annual rate of 10 percent. Though total crime has been higher in the past, this rate of increase is the highest ever recorded and alone should alert Piedmonters to be prepared. These statistics and recent events also indicate that the greatest threat to Piedmont is the increase in burglaries and robberies. Burglary has doubled from 49 to 110 over that time and, more importantly, encounters with criminals during commission of these crimes has increased. Nothing has so changed the climate of our town than the recent forced entries and home invasions.
Goede outlined several strategies going forward that can be described as technology, time and tactics. License plate readers are devices that can collect license plate numbers from vehicles entering Piedmont and rapidly check those numbers against state records of stolen vehicles and outstanding warrants, thus alerting police to criminals entering Piedmont. The system can also be equipped to log video of all license plates so that suspect vehicles can be identified retroactively. Tiburon is cited as a successful example of plate readers but requires only two readers to monitor its roadways. Roughly 30 plate readers would be needed to cover all Piedmont entries at a cost of about $500,000. This is well within Piedmont's budget but the long-term effectiveness of plate readers needs to be considered.
Police overtime and patrol time are two proven approaches to crime reduction. Piedmont spends roughly $250,000 in police overtime each year. However, since 2010, two to four full-time police officers have been out on disability leave at any given time and most overtime expenditure has gone to maintain normal patrol levels. Assuming 20 years of service, most of the city's public safety staff are closer to the age of retirement than not and disability spikes may create staffing shortages in the coming years. Chief Goede has hired two new full-time officers and was given authority to begin recruitment ahead of schedule, but none of this new force will be available for at least six months. Increased patrol time has proved effective during this crime surge -- when used to supplement the regular patrol force, overtime resulted in a decline in burglaries. The number of paid reserves (retired officers) has been increased and will be used to increase the patrol force.
The Piedmont Police Department relies heavily on neighborhood watch programs as a crime-fighting tactic. Residents interested in forming a group for their neighborhood should check with the city at http://www.ci.piedmont.ca.us/police/programs.html. The department also maintains volunteer and explorer programs with information available at the website. There is a Public Safety Committee that meets once a month at 5:30 p.m. on the month's first Thursday in City Hall to discuss public safety and emergency response programs -- it's a great forum for public input. And from a statistical viewpoint, our community approach appears to be working -- larceny and auto theft rates were flat over 2012, indicating that our community "eyes" may be working. It's our burglary rate that is on the rise and increased patrolling in the high-crime areas of Piedmont will be the best tactic to reverse that trend.
The City Council will make some very important decisions about spending on these crime-reduction strategies at the midyear budget review Monday in City Hall. Residents can send their comments to Chief Rikki Goede at RGoede@PiedmontPD.org or to the City Council at email@example.com.
Garrett Keating is a Pied- mont City Council member.