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Crime a community problem requiring community response
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When I assumed command of the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department, it was clear that our top priority is to keep our families and neighborhoods safe. And thanks to the deputies and staff of a great department, supportive law enforcement agencies throughout the county, and our on-going collaboration with neighborhood groups and citizens, we have been successful in reducing crime.

The crime rate in the unincorporated area of Stanislaus County and contract cities - where the Sheriff's Department is responsible for public safety - is at its lowest level in two decades. The auto theft rate in the unincorporated area is at its lowest level since 2000.The crime rate in the city of Riverbank is at its lowest levels since the Sheriff's Department took over law enforcement services. Waterford's crime rate is the lowest it has been since 1999. Hughson has the lowest crime rate in Stanislaus County.

But the threats to our community's safety such as gangs, the methamphetamine industry, and some neighborhoods blighted by crime, are still here. We need to keep making progress. To that end, the Sheriff's Department has been re-organized to put community policing into effect throughout the county.

Simply put, community policing is based on two principles: Community partnerships and problem-solving to proactively and rigorously address crime.

To better serve all citizens of Stanislaus County, we de-centralized our resources. Rather than a majority of our deputy sheriffs patrolling the county from a centralized location at the Sheriff's Operations Center on Hackett Road, we created four Area Commands. Each Area Command has in place personnel, including command staff and support staff who work from four areas to patrol the county rather than one location. Three of our Area Commands are based in contract cities we serve. Patterson is our base of operations in the West Area Command, Riverbank in the North Area Command and Waterford in the East Area Command. The Sheriff's Operations Center serves as the base for our Central Area Command. This model is used throughout California by many other Sheriff's Departments and is a more effective and efficient means of responding to the public safety needs of our communities. The goal is for our personnel to work in the same area of the county for an extended period of time. This provides us the opportunity to get to know the community, develop relationships with our citizens, and to deal with those individuals who victimize members of our community. Our hope is that our personnel will stay in these area commands for years at a time.

Crime isn't just a police problem. It is a community problem that needs a community response. That is why we are working with community groups throughout Stanislaus County to address crime with programs like Weed and Seed and the Gang Injunction. It is also why we aggressively pursued the COPS grant in order to restore four community deputies to Salida, Denair, Keyes and Empire/Airport. We also assigned a deputy full time to work in the Weed and Seed and Gang Injunction area. We work together with citizens to clean up the neighborhoods that have been blighted by crime and neglect.

Crime flourishes when communities have given up hope and that is visible in trash-strewn streets and dilapidated houses. It is the broken windows theory of crime. Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired; all the rest of the windows will soon be broken.

In 1969, Philip Zimbardo, a Stanford psychologist, arranged to have an automobile without license plates parked with its hood up on a street in New York City and a comparable car on a street in Palo Alto. The car in the Bronx was attacked within 10 minutes of its abandonment. Within 24 hours, virtually everything of value had been removed. Then random destruction began - windows were smashed, parts torn off, upholstery ripped. The car in Palo Alto sat untouched for more than a week. Then Zimbardo smashed part of it with a sledgehammer. Soon, passersby were joining in. Within a few hours, the car had been turned upside down and utterly destroyed.

When community controls break down, it takes more than just a heightened police response. We have to continue working together block by block and neighborhood by neighborhood to get at the causes of crime, so that one broken window does not become a gutted building.

Second, we need to strengthen existing partnerships between the Sheriff's Department and the community that will allow us to sit together and problem-solve. We have a great team of people in our department all of whom are committed to working with citizens to that end.

Last, our department will have to change as an organization. It is critical that the Sheriff's Department build trust and confidence within the community. That is why I have directed our deputies to get out of their cars and talk with people and to help people solve the crime and quality of life issues in their neighborhoods. Building trust takes time but in the long run it is the only way to experience long term results.