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City: property crime swell due to state
Property crimes are up in the Valley, fueled by the state policy on early releases of prisoners, but Ceres police want to get a better handle on common thieves.

"Our answer is far from simple," said Ceres Police Chief Art deWerk who made a presentation to the Ceres City Council during a Monday evening Study Session.

DeWerk said his department has not attempted to "arrest our way out of the problem" but "trying to displace it by really creating an environment where it's not that comfortable to commit crimes in our community."

Ceres has experienced a higher rate of property crimes than the state average, said crime analyst Alex Warner whose position was funded through the half-cent sales tax generated by Measure H passed in 2007. She is helping to analyze where crimes are occurring in order to help make officers become more effective at reducing crime.

Since October 2011 when the state began the early release of "lower level" offenders from state prisons, Ceres police have been tied up with repeat offenders doing property crimes.

Warner noted that in August, auto thefts skyrocketed by a 156 percent increase.

"Everybody is experiencing these increases," she said. "We're not alone on this."

DeWerk called for the council to allocate $120,000 to hire a staff member to beef up the Neighborhood Watch program intended to get residents more engaged as the eyes and ears for police and their neighbors.

He also would like to see the public band together to fund private security to augment police patrols.

"We have to kick it up a notch," said deWerk.

The chief blasted the state's prison realignment program, the result of the passage of AB 109.

"The city should declare realignment as being one of the grossest policy failures that the state has ever implemented and the consequences of their trying to save money has shifted the impacts and the costs onto the backs of local cities and good taxpaying citizens," said deWerk.

He suggested that the council help kick off a campaign to apply pressure to state legislators to undo the legislation. DeWerk also suggests engaging the help of the

League of California Cities. While all California cities are being impacted, deWerk said he has not seen "one city stand up and say this is wrong" and make calls to legislators who supported realignment.

According to Warner, Ceres had experienced a 17 percent reduction in crime from 2008 to 2011 due to Measure H, the addition of Street Crimes Unit and beefing up investigations. But the chief suggested "those gains are steadily being eroded" by the state early release program.

Ceres enjoyed a 15 percent decrease in violent crimes between 2007 and 2011 but is now seeing an upward trend.

In 2011, Ceres police seized 156 illegally possessed firearms and 106 so far in 2012. Most of those are being taken from gang members and drug dealers.

Sgt. Dennis Perry said drug offenders and parolees are doing most of the crimes in Ceres. Gang members and drug users are committing kick-down residential burglaries to steal valuable to sell for drug or weapons purchases. He said it is not unusual for him to arrest an individual five or six times a month only to learn that he keeps getting out of jail because the county doesn't have enough room.

"Most of the crime is being done by repeat offenders," said Perry.

Sgt. Rob Robbins said that one or two suspects can impact Ceres crime stats directly.

Deputy Chief of Police Mike Borges cited the example of suspect Charles Love, an admitted Skinhead, who came to Ceres due to the early release program. Evidence found inside of Love's house during a Dec. 8 arrest was tied directly to nine property crimes.

Theft and aggressive panhandling is becoming such a problem in the Hatch Road Business Improvement District (BID) that two councilmen, police officials and the Chamber gathered with merchants last week to talk about the problem.

DeWerk noted that he would not object to the use of cameras in high traffic areas, such as Hatch Road, to keep an eye on and record criminals.

Steven Rank, president of the Modesto based Rank Investigation and Protection, Inc., called AB 109 "the biggest train wreck to come down the tracks in the history of the state of California" that is impacting all communities. He said the law is also flawed because it uses the last conviction of an inmate to qualify for early release.

"If you have a criminal who does a home invasion robbery and beats an 80-year-old lady, he does his time in prison, he's released, his next conviction is so auto theft - that is what makes him eligible for (AB) 109," said Rank. "So he can have a violent history but because of his last conviction, that's what makes him eligible for release."

While the state intended to reduce inmate overcrowding in state prisons, the law has not achieved that.

Borges said the state projected 685 offenders being released to Stanislaus County but it was actually 888.