Arcata violent crime reports up 18% in 2019

Last year by end of July, there were 116 violent crimes reported; this year there were 137

A graph breaking down the types of reported crimes in Arcata. Personal property theft is the most common type of crime in Arcata, according to data from the Arcata Police Department’s management dashboard. (Sonia Waraich — The Times-Standard)
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Reports of property crime and violent crime are rising in Arcata, but that doesn’t necessarily mean crime itself is increasing.

By the end July last year, there were 116 reported violent crimes — which includes no murders, seven rapes, seven robberies and 102 assaults — according to statistics from the Arcata Police Department management dashboard in the agenda packet for Wednesday’s Public Safety Committee meeting. As of July of this year, there were 137 total reported violent crimes — including one murder, seven rapes, 12 robberies and 117 assaults. That represents an 18% increase in violent crime.

By July of last year, there were 365 reports of property crime, 41 of which were for burglary, 281 for larceny, 34 for car theft and nine for arson. By July of this year, property crime rose 7% compared to the total number of crimes reported by July 2018. There were 390 reports, of which 79 were for burglary, 267 were for larceny, 31 were for car thefts and 13 were for arson.

But Arcata’s police chief, Brian Ahearn, said statistics can sometimes be misleading without digging into what exactly the numbers mean. For instance, the rise in violent crime might be the result of more people reporting crime rather than more crime actually taking place.

“Because of the outreach we’ve been doing, community members trust us,” Ahearn said. “They’re more willing to share information, even when they’re victimized by crime.”

Another factor to take into account when looking at the data is that reports of a particular type of crime might also turn out to be an entirely different crime after some investigation, Ahearn said.

“All of this is predicated on the code that the officer uses,” Ahearn said. “There are times when, after a day or two, the detective does the investigation and realizes it’s a different crime, but can’t go back and change the original data point.”

While there was an increase in the total number of crimes that occurred this year, comparing crime for the months of July 2018 and July 2019 paints a different picture. There was a 15% decrease in violent crime, from 13 to 11, and a 45% decrease in property crime, from 69 to 38.

Ahearn said he believes the decrease in property crime was the result of APD arresting several people who were committing multiple burglaries in the city and surrounding areas of Humboldt County.

“Once they were arrested, you saw that property crime number go down,” Ahearn said.

A 2018 report from the Public Safety Task Force, which was formed at the end of 2016 after the assault of a 12-year-old girl, found that the city’s police force is understaffed compared with the rest of the country. APD has an officer-to-population ratio of about 1.5 for every thousand residents while the national average is 2.4 cops for every thousand residents. However, that’s also changing.

The department was able to move an officer from patrol to investigations, which Ahearn said allows the department to take the time needed to identify, apprehend and hold accountable people involved in criminal activity. Two Humboldt State University graduates were hired recently and are currently in training.

Going forward, APD intends to hire an evidence technician, who will help the department better collect and preserve evidence, by early 2020, Ahearn said. Within a couple of years, he expects to add a crime prevention specialist, he said.

Crimes that aren’t reported are still taking place, but not being captured by the statistics, Ahearn said. That makes reporting crimes especially important.

When citizens make a report, it’s also easier for the police to get a better idea of what’s making the crimes more likely to take place. For instance, 10 burglaries took place in July and many of those resulted from doors and windows being left unlocked.

It’s never the victim’s fault or appropriate to victim-blame, Ahearn said. However, property crime tends to be a crime of opportunity, so citizens can take precautionary steps to reduce the opportunity.

“People should be able to leave their windows and doors open,” Ahearn said. “This is America, you should be able to do that and live in safety. But unfortunately, when you do that, you are leaving the potential for crime to happen.”

One family that was vacationing in Arcata recently had a bike stolen and wrote Ahearn to commend the department and the two officers who assisted them in recovering the bicycle that belonged to a grandparent. The family’s letter stated that they contacted APD about the stolen bike at 9:30 a.m. and got a response within 20 minutes that the bike was recovered.

“My family and everyone I have told this story (to) has been extremely impressed at your excellent service,” the letter states.

The Public Safety Committee’s annual report to the city council, set to be presented Sept. 4, recommends the city focus on “neighborhood-specific crime prevention strategies, community outreach, and disaster preparedness” in addition to designing pathways, trails, streets and parks in a way that would prevent crime, such as adding lighting and security cameras.

APD is planning on rolling out a parked vehicle, windshield-placed report card letting people who have property such as electronics and wallets out in the open know how to better protect their belongings, Ahearn said.

“We’re all in this together,” Ahearn said. “It’s everyone’s responsibility to help drive crime down.”

Efforts to reach the chair of the Public Safety Committee were unsuccessful on Friday.

Sonia Waraich can be reached at 707-441-0506.

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