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Violent crimes down in Ceres, state

POSTED March 7, 2012 9:00 a.m.
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Crime statistics have been trending downwards as of recently. And to the extent that there is high unemployment and literally thousands of convicted criminals who are enjoying an early release from the state prison system, this downward trend is rather counter-intuitive.

Part I crimes, which include homicide, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft, collectively have seen a significant decline in California. Despite these encouraging statistics, California still remains one of the most violent states in the nation.

Ceres did not have any homicides in 2011, three occurred in 2010. When comparing the last two years in Ceres, robberies decreased by 12.3 percent, there were 14.3 percent fewer rapes and larcenies are down 8.6 percent. Auto theft declined by a whopping 37.8 percent and simple assaults decreased by 31.5 percent. Burglaries and aggravated assaults increased in 2011, by 3.9 percent and 6.9 percent respectively.

The aforementioned figures (with the exception of burglaries and aggravated assaults) suggest cause for celebration, but it is a bit soon for that. Statistical data reflecting societal trends (like crime) hardly ever spikes or drops downward in a radical fashion. Whatever prompts an increase in crimes, for example, often takes months, if not years to manifest. And trying to manage it is like steering a 300,000-ton super tanker ocean vessel; a ship that size may require up to a mile to finally come to a complete stop after being at full speed. The same concept applies to societal changes, as well.

A change such as the release of tens of thousands of prisoners may take months or years for the society to feel, let alone for it to comprehend why it is actually happening. It is a fact that when more criminals remain behind bars and for longer periods of time, crime decreases. Now, with the prisoner early release program, the cuts to law enforcement, the jails, the prosecutorial and courts system, the declining crime trend will reverse and we will likely again move towards the very high crime rates of the mid-1960s.

It is a mistake to assume that unemployment causes people who were formerly employed to turn to crime to make up for their lost income. Criminals generally start at an early age, and just because a law-abiding person ends up jobless, they are not more likely to engage in criminal activities. They simply live with less or without - they do not compromise their morals and ethics because of having fallen on hard times. Therefore, the unemployment situation should not be part of this discussion.

There are, of course, many factors that affect crime trends. One factor is that criminals may leave a financially struggling geographical area to go to another area where there is more wealth and thus more profitable crime opportunities. Similarly, some criminals who are here illegally may return to their country of origin when the economic hard times hit. Another factor is that when victims are in a state of despair and feeling hopeless, they are less likely to report crime due to the perception that it will not do any good anyway.

Criminal-on-criminal crime often goes unreported, like drug rip-offs, drive-by shootings, gang fights, etc. To some law-abiding citizens, this is a non-problem since those crimes do not appear to affect them directly. It is a mistake to discount these kinds of crime because they lurk on the underbelly of society, like a cancer poised to spread and eventually disrupt the safety and quality of life of any community.

As the size of police forces are reduced, there is an impact on crime reporting. Fewer officers translates to fewer detected crimes. A city where it takes officers hours or days to complete police reports will likely see diminishing crime reports. It is also the case that police departments with staffing crises sometimes stop taking certain kinds of reports altogether, thus affecting the crime statistics gathering process. Simply put, crime data becomes artificially skewed owing to factors that have nothing to do with the actual crime events taking place. And if the public is not careful, they may be duped into believing that crime is truly declining. But tell someone whose house or car has been burglarized several times in a one year or where gangs and other destructive people have taken over their neighborhood. Try to convince them that they are living in a reduced crime environment.

The police are also now seeing the "revolving door syndrome," where a person who has already done jail time is being arrested again and again for new crimes while on probation or parole, with no apparent consequences. One recent example took place on Feb. 22 when a homeowner interrupted a young man that was in the process of burglarizing the home. The burglar was arrested by police, who learned he was on probation for property-related crime after having recently been released from custody on Jan. 20 - just one month prior. These criminals have nothing to lose, so forcing them to pay a fine is of no use, and since the jails are full (and there is insufficient prosecutorial support to get them back to jail even if there were space), those criminals have no compelling reason to change their behaviours.

When it comes right down to it, crime statistics have little to do with how safe people feel in their homes, neighborhoods, parks and during their travels. But statistics form the basis for legislative decisions affecting criminal justice system (jails, prisons, courts, probation, etc.) funding, and police and sheriff's department staffing. True, we are seeing favorable crime statistics at this time, but beware; there are many reasons to believe that a tidal wave of crime is yet to come.
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