First community public safety forum addresses crime increase
San Diego Police Department overviews current investigations and techniques
Published Thursday, 30-Nov-2006 in issue 988
Several members of the San Diego Police Department and other city officials spoke at a community public safety forum to address the crime increase in the area at The Center on Nov. 27.
It was the first in a series of five forums that District 3 Councilmember Toni Atkins, in collaboration with the SDPD, organized to confront the sharp increase in crime, especially pedestrian robberies, during the last several months in the North Park, City Heights, Hillcrest and Balboa Park areas.
“I personally am somewhat alarmed at the increase of robberies and assault that we have noticed over the last several months,” Atkins said. “…We have a police department that’s willing to work with the community as they always have been, and for that we’re very grateful.”
San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne said there have been 47 street robberies in the Hillcrest, North Park and University Heights areas within the last four months. He said although violent crime is down in different sections of the city overall, it has risen 1 percent in Hillcrest.
“There’s no mistake, we have a staffing problem, but as we look at the overall crime in the city of San Diego, we’ve been able to control it because of the help of everybody in this room – police officers, the City Attorney’s Office, the District Attorney’s office, the council and certainly the community of San Diego.”
City Attorney Mike Aguirre referenced the San Diego Police Department’s staffing difficulties.
“We do not have the number of police officers per 1,000 [San Diego residents] that a city of our size needs and must have,” he said. “We don’t have that because after Proposition 13 [the People’s Initiative to Limit Property Taxation, 1978] was passed. Unlike most other cities, we adopted a philosophy that we didn’t need to raise any revenues or any alternative revenues. As a result, we have been living off borrowed time for a long, long time. Our police officers do more with the few officers that they have than most other communities do.”
Aguirre’s office has formed a task force to confront the crime in the District 3 area. Following the Oct. 15 rapes and attacks in Mission Beach, Aguirre said he put into place some additional protective policies and procedures that were beneficial for that community.
“We have had, traditionally, a relatively low level of crime, but as the city has become more complex and we’ve become more urban … we have seen the conditions that give rise to an increase in criminal activity,” Aguirre said. “This is not just happening here. It’s happening in spots all over the city.”
City Commissioner Nicole Murray-Ramirez, who serves as chair of the Human Relations Commission and serves on the police chief’s advisory committee, said it’s time local citizens take action.
“Our community and neighborhoods in this district are definitely very afraid and concerned, but it’s a two-way street,” he said. “We also have to take care of each other.”
Bar and other business owners should take more responsibility and caution their patrons of the crime issues when they leave their establishments late at night since many are not aware there is even a problem, Murray-Ramirez said.
“If you leave a bar you will see a sign that says to ‘be courteous to our neighbors,’ but you don’t see a sign that says ‘be careful because there have been muggings or robberies,’” he said. “We have to call upon the businesses and the bars to make sure that they give this notice and also, to be quite blunt, that some of the bars stop over-pouring and making sure that their customers do not leave the bar drunk. Some of these incidents have happened where some have left the bar intoxicated.”
Murray-Ramirez said he is working with Atkins on the ongoing issue of inadequate street lighting in District 3 and urged citizens to report lights that are out. If a streetlight is burned out, call (619) 527-7500 to file a report.
“This is the beginning of us taking back our neighborhoods, taking back our streets and taking back the third district from criminals,” he said.
Western Division police captain Sarah Creighton said on any given day she has 111 officers on duty throughout the several regions that encompass the 27-square-mile area within the Western Division.
Creighton said of the 47 street robberies that have been reported and remain unsolved, two-thirds of those took place between 9:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m.
“This problem is not unique to Western Division. Central Division shares it. Mid-City shares it,” she said. “The crooks don’t differentiate between service areas or divisions.”
She also said the street robberies are occurring relatively quickly so victims have great difficulty identifying the suspects.
“Of course, we need good identification of the suspects in order to incarcerate them, and the victims are having a really difficult time taking a look at photos and identifying them later down the road,” Creighton said.
Western Division lieutenant Margaret Schaufelberger said she has a team of two discretionary officers who are assigned solely to the series of unsolved street robberies in the Western Division.
The investigators are using an aggressive investigation technique to identify some of the related cases where possibly two suspects are responsible for a number of crimes, Schaufelberger said.
In addition, a crime suppression team works the late afternoon and evening hours in a highly visible patrol [car], stopping and contacting individuals who might fit suspect descriptions. The team also provides people with information on how to avoid being victimized, she said. Another team works from 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., using aggressive patrol techniques as well, she added.
“There are so many different suspects. We’re talking about different races. We’re talking about probably a different crew working the different robberies, so if there’s multiple suspects, it’s not necessarily the same three or four who come out and do it,” Creighton said. “But there probably is some level of networking that is occurring among them. We do have our eyes on a number of people who we suspect are doing the crimes. It’s just a matter of catching them or having one of the victims able to identify.”
Western Division community relations officer James Heppell reviewed color codes of awareness to describe a pedestrian when walking on the street. White signifies the person is unaware, he said, while yellow is the ideal state to be in, meaning the person is well-aware of their surroundings. Orange means a person has identified that a problem exists. Red signifies an attack is about to take place and black represents an attack is currently taking place.
As the police continue to search for suspects, another robbery occurred on Nov. 28 in the early morning hours following the forum. A 25-year-old man was robbed in University Heights after parking his car on Mission Avenue near Florida Street, according to the SDPD. Two men and two women in a silver four-door car drove up to the victim and robbed the victim of his wallet, police said. The victim was not harmed.
A Hillcrest Neighborhood Watch is forming. A meeting will take place on Tuesday, Dec. 12, at 7:00 p.m. at the Joyce Beers Community Center, located on the east side of Vermont Street in the Ralphs/Trader Joe’s plaza parking lot. For more information, call John Hartley at (619) 299-8870 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.