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Westside residents see more crime than rest of city

POSTED January 8, 2010 10:55 p.m.
 This is the third installation in a five-part series on the area of town known as the Westside. Today’s article is about crime in the Westside. Previous articles looked at the role of the faith community in the Westside. Coming articles will focus on business and the people of the Westside.
The Westside of Turlock has seen more than its fair share of violent crime.
In fact, while only 13 percent of the city’s population reside on the Westside, historically, 30 percent of Part 1 crimes — which include everything from murder, to robbery and auto theft — occur on that side of town.
This comes as no surprise to the many families and businesses that call the Westside home. One example of the state of crime is the series of 20 drive-by shootings that occurred in a 30-day time period in the spring of 2007, of which the majority took place on the Westside.
“There’s always break-ins all the time over here,” Westside resident Annette Sakuda said.
Two years ago Sakuda’s mother left her Locust Street home to run an errand, and less than an hour later, returned to find she had been robbed. According to Sakuda, the incident shook her mother up enough that she moved to Merced.
Sakuda said that the rising number of vacant houses on the Westside has made the area seem even more “creepy.” Her husband was witness to one of two recent fires that erupted at 208 Locust St., one of the neighborhood’s many empty houses.
While the crime statistics paint a bleak picture of the Westside, Turlock patrol officers know that it doesn’t reflect the entire community.
“In my opinion, there are a whole lot of good people living over here; they just don’t have a lot of money,” Officer Michael Cervantez said. “It’s just a handful of bullies that cause all the problems.”
Those handful of bullies cause a lot of damage, although the number of crimes have decreased over the past three years. In 2007, 4,831 Part 1 crimes occurred in Turlock as a whole, 1,344 of which happened on the Westside. In 2008, 3,656 Part 1 crimes occurred, 1,222 of which happened on the Westside. And from January through Oct. 31, 2009, 2,770 Part 1 crimes occurred, 1,015 of which happened on the Westside.
Three and half years ago, when Gary Hampton accepted the post of Turlock Police Chief, the Westside was an area of town where crime and criminals seemed to prosper.
“During my first 90 to 120 days, what I heard was the Westside had been forgotten and abandoned from the city,” Hampton said.
“It was pretty clear to me... the crime trends on the Westside had grown to the point that something needed to be done.”
At first, Hampton said that bringing the crime rates down on the Westside was problematic. The police department did not have a comprehensive plan to address crime trends and events on the Westside and they did not have the assets.
But then a new Turlock City Council came to power and they made public safety a priority. The council stated in their strategic plan that they were not satisfied with the current service levels and they directed Hampton to start addressing crime trends, especially on the Westside.
Hampton set about on this directive by talking with a diverse group of community members that included families, the faith community, businesses and educators, to get an accurate picture of what was actually happening on the Westside.
Today, about 13 percent of the population still lives on the Westside, but the percentage of violent crime has drastically decreased.
“We’ve reduced crime city-wide, but especially with the Westside, neighbors are safer today than in 2006, 2007 and 2008,” Hampton said.
How did this happen? According to Hampton, there were five key strategies that made the difference. First, the City Council embraced Hampton’s three-year plan to increase public safety and allocated the funding to carry it out. A fully-staffed department was part of the three-year plan passed in 2007, however, recent budget cuts forced the loss of five sworn police officers. Turlock will be gaining four of those officers back, as the City Council accepted grant funding in October from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
The new public safety center, that will be built on N. Broadway, is one of the key elements of the plan. While expanding the actual space the police department needs to function, it also relocates the department in the downtown/near Westside area.
The creation of specialized units allows the department to put resources where they are needed most. The street level narcotics unit, made up of one sergeant and two detectives, addresses smaller level drug dealers who have a greater impact on youth and day-to-day users. The Street Crimes Unit and Gang Prevention Task Force also target specific crime groups. The department also implemented strategies targeting specific groups, such as restorative policing programs for transient offenders and partnered with businesses for crime prevention.
Instead of taking a broad outlook on crime, the police department is now very focused on where they put services. They attempt to forecast where crimes will occur and allocate resources accordingly. For example, when the city saw an increase in auto burglaries at retail stores during the holiday shopping season, they deployed “decoy” cars filled with presents as bait for the thieves.
“We’re at the very beginning of results with the Street Crimes Unit, Traffic Enforcement and Gang Prevention Task Force. We are already seeing benefits over the past 18 months. I can’t wait to see what it looks like 18 months from now,” Hampton said. “It has exceeded my expectations.”
While Hampton acknowledged that the police department “can’t reverse crime in the Westside — or Turlock — overnight,” he remains optimistic for the future.
“I believe at the rate we’re going, we’ll have crime levels at the lowest it has been in 20 years in a year or two,” he said.
To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail khacker@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.






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