Santa Monica police arrest a burglary suspect last year. (File photo)

Santa Monica police arrest a burglary suspect last year. (File photo)

CITYWIDE — The Federal Bureau of Investigation released figures this week showing a nationwide increase in violent and property-related crimes in early 2012, and Santa Monica was no exception.

According to the semi-annual Uniform Crime Report, an amalgamation of crimes reported to law enforcement across the country, violent crime increased 1.9 percent in the first six months of 2012 when compared to the same period in 2011.

Property crimes saw a slightly smaller uptick of 1.5 percent, according to the report.

Although the semi-annual report does not include crimes in communities with populations smaller than 100,000, figures sent to the FBI by the Santa Monica Police Department show that both property and violent crimes increased during the first half of last year.

Crime was up in every category, including an additional eight reports of robbery, three substantiated reports of rape and 12 assaults.

Unlike the national trend, however, property crimes saw a more pronounced increase, with burglary jumping up by 79 reports and an additional 91 reports of theft, from 1,198 to 1,289.

Even motor vehicle theft bumped up by eight cases.

In contrast, violent crime in Santa Monica’s larger neighbor Los Angeles has dropped significantly, although property crimes also increased from 42,608 reports to 43,388.

Property crimes continued to be high through the end of 2012, prompting the SMPD to reorganize its approach.

The Crime Impact Team, gang detectives and officers dedicated to policing the Third Street Promenade banded together to saturate the Downtown, along with the Homeless Liaison Program team, or HLP, which collaborated on problems relating to the homeless.

That three-month program, which would have expired in January, will continue for an additional 30 days to capitalize on the 50 percent drop in crime that resulted, said Sgt. Richard Lewis, spokesperson for the Santa Monica Police Department.

Between late October and the end of the year, the number of crimes reported to the FBI dropped from 14.3 per day to 6.9 per day, he said.

There are a number of factors that could be contributing to the problem Santa Monica is experiencing.

Although Santa Monica escaped the economic downturn relatively unscathed, many people in the surrounding areas did not, and the economic hardships facing many families could be one reason property crimes in the area including Los Angeles are increasing.

Another possibility is the impact of Assembly Bill 109, also called realignment, which shifted felons out of the state prison system and into local jails beginning in October 2011. That caused many lesser offenders in the jails to be released on parole.

Some of the people arrested by the SMPD have already proven to be those released as a result of AB 109, Lewis said.

“We are catching re-offenders. The numbers are there, but not extraordinarily high,” Lewis said.

It’s still too early for law enforcement or researchers to truly understand the impacts of realignment on California cities and counties, said Chief Scott Seaman, chief of the Los Gatos/Monte Sereno Police Department and president of the California Police Chiefs Association.

Still, there have been increases in property crime in many California communities, he said.

“We do believe there’s a linkage, but no one can be certain to what degree that linkage is to the realignment program,” Seaman said. “We do see that offenders are perceiving that there are lessened consequences for their actions, and believe that might be a factor.”

Seaman recently met with a group of researchers from Stanford University who received $650,000 to research the implementation and impact of realignment. The researchers expect to share their findings this summer.

In the meantime, Santa Monica police officers will continue their efforts to not only reduce crime, but the fear of crime in the community, Lewis said.

“We’re putting these officers out there not only so our residents and visitors can have a safe experience, but that they feel safe in the community,” he said.

 

ashley@smdp.com

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