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Group talks crime amid fun
• Crime awareness block party held at Whitmore Mansion
Freddie Ortiz.jpg
Officer Freddie Ortiz helps himself to a hotdog at the Whitmore Mansion during a National Night Out event. - photo by Jeff Benziger

A “community block party” was staged at the Clinton Whitmore Mansion on Tuesday, Aug. 7 for a National Night Out celebration designed to bring the community together to reduce local crime.

Held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., the event featured information booths, free chips and hotdogs, displays of police vehicles such as the armored SWAT vehicle and free water conservation products such as soil moisture meters and low-flow water spray nozzles and literature and coloring books. The Sonitrol Security Company was on hand to hand out literature on their home security service as well as hand out freebies.

National Night Out is held annually in most cities to focus on community crime prevention.

Other NNO block parties were held on Standford Avenue and in the Stonum/Nadina/Columbard/Chardonnay neighborhoods.

Long-time Ceres resident Julie Rosenau showed up with donuts for Chief Brent Smith to give officers as an appreciation for the job they do in protecting Ceres. She also brought treats for the police canines.

“Just because I appreciate their hard work,” said Rosenau. “They’re doing a good job.

She said a deceased uncle, Barry Shrader, had been a motorcycle officer with Modesto Police until he became injured en route to a bank robbery. The injuries he sustained led to an eventual spiral downhill until his death.

Ceres Police Chief Brent Smith had a chance to talk about crime trends in Ceres, citing how the state’s early prison release program has floods local streets with those who are either addicted to drug or who have not been reformed.

He suspects that residents are not calling to report crimes the way they used to. Smith cited one Ceres resident who approached city planners to have access to the end of their cul-de-sac closed off because of homeless people who are trashing the neighborhood and stealing things. When a city staffer asked if they have been calling police, the resident said he hadn’t because he felt police were not going to do anything.

“The problem is law and order in this state has gone away with our wonderful government in Sacramento,” said Smith. “You’ve got all of your court cases that unload the prison population on the public. The (dollar) number between felony and misdemeanor theft went from $400 to $950. So nobody’s doing any time. We’ll put them in there and they’ll get out so people are not calling.”

He said a number of thieves have successfully sued stores where loss prevention officers have tackled them while they commit theft. The result, he said, is some stores are “letting people walk out.” Some stores are also implementing in-house restorative justice programs to keep offenders out of the clogged court system.

“Our crime stats have gone down because I think a lot of it is a lack of reporting. Our homeless problem continues to increase. A lot of it is the prison release and long-term drug use.”

Chief Smith said he believes major cities like San Francisco and the Bay Area are transporting the homeless to Stanislaus County.

“We found people from out of state here for the benefits of being homeless in California. They know where to travel to get benefits. They call them travelers.”

While not all homeless persons commit crimes, Smith said they contribute to community blight and nuisance of garbage and feces.

He said there needs to a mindset shift to begin tackling the problem. He noted that he received a complaint of a Ceres Police officer citing a homeless man walking in traffic atop the Hatch Road overpass. Smith told the man “just because you’re homeless does not mean you don’t have any responsibility to be a responsible citizen. You don’t get a free pass. They need to obey the laws just like anyone else. The problem is society has given them a free pass. We’re not doing that.”

Chief Smith is busy trying to fill six police officer positions, one of which started the Police Academy in Stockton. Another candidate is undergoing background checks to move on to the local Police Academy operated through the Sheriff’s Department. Another Academy student in Napa who was a former Ceres Police explorer, graduates in September and will be hired pending a successful background check. The department is losing its high-tech crimes officer in Art Hively, who is moving onto a private-sector job in September.

Ceres resident Julie Rosenau gives Police Chief Brent Smith donuts as an appreciation to officers.