WALNUT CREEK -- Be warned, drivers who have spent the past two years speeding down Ygnacio Valley Road with no consequences: The Walnut Creek Police Department's motorcycle traffic team is making a comeback.
"The motor unit is very excited to get back out there," said police Chief Tom Chaplin at a City Council meeting last week. "They really believe they can contribute to lowering the injury collision rate."
There were 245 injury accidents last year, compared to 195 in 2012. Officials say this is partially due to the drop in traffic enforcement over the past two years because of decreased staffing. In 2013, police issued 3,541 citations for traffic violations, compared to nearly 10,000 in 2010, not including parking tickets.
"Traffic is obviously a major issue in Walnut Creek," Chaplin said. "Our (citation) numbers are lower than they have been traditionally ... And that has to do with staffing problems we have now solved."
In the past few years, budget cuts left several vacant officer positions unfilled, and that was compounded by unexpected leaves, injuries, retirements and resignations. But the department is once again fully staffed, with 82 officers, Chaplin said.
The motorcycle team is only one of the major changes coming this spring that will overhaul the way policing is done in Walnut Creek. Changes include a switch to 12.5-hour shifts that create more officer overlap, the addition of another K-9 unit, more officer training, a new crime-reduction model and putting officers back in schools -- a program that was taken away in 2012.
The biggest change will be how officers actually police the city. Traditionally, the city was split in three sectors for police coverage, but Chaplin is adding a fourth sector downtown, where most of the crime occurs.
Within the other sectors, there will be three beats so officers can concentrate on those areas and get to know the neighborhoods, and the residents can get to know them. Chaplin called it "basic, fundamental community policing."
"Quite frankly, I want our officers to be offended if there is criminal activity in their beat," he said.
Most of these changes will take effect by the end of April.
Mayor Kristina Lawson said she is excited about the new plans, particularly the reintroduction of police officers into the city's schools next fall. She credits Chaplin for doing a "remarkable job" with morale as well as "forward thinking" changes.
"I commend Chief Chaplin and the entire Walnut Creek Police Department for spending a tremendous amount of time and energy to develop and implement a true community policing model, all during a time of limited resources," she said.
Crime statistics for the past year were also released last week. While overall crime was down 1.9 percent, robberies spiked 68 percent, from 19 in 2012 to 32 last year, while home burglaries fell 29 percent. Vehicle burglaries climbed from 410 to 477 last year. The trend is a concern to the department, Chaplin said.
"I think we all know this is a safe community to live in, but that doesn't mean we don't have crime and things to work on," he said.
Some of that work has already begun.
In Rossmoor, the department started a monthly "coffee with a cop" program and provides an article in the community's newspaper. It also has more patrols within the gated community.
The results are evident, according to Stephanie Asker, a critic of police coverage in the past. Last year, after heightened fears over rising crime in the mostly senior community, Asker started Toward A Safer Rossmoor (TASR). The group gathered more than 1,200 signatures asking the City Council to increase the police budget and protect the community. The group disbanded last month, feeling their job was done. Asker says she has noticed a difference.
"I noticed just the other day that everybody is stopping at the stop signs," she said. "We wanted more police patrols and felt that voting citizens were being neglected, but now we are part of Walnut Creek again."
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.
Crime 2012 2013
Homicide 1 0
Forcible Rape 3 3
Robbery 19 32
Aggravated Assault 60 55
Burglary 872 837
Theft 888 947
Motor Vehicle Theft 151 168
Arson 4 1
Vehicle Burglary 624 477
DUI 399 296
Narcotics 149 150
Sex Offenses 37 23
Vandalism 400 308
-- Source Walnut Creek Police Department