Atwater police had busy year, numbers show

mnorth@mercedsunstar.comJanuary 3, 2013 

— Despite a shortage of officers, 2012 was another busy year for the Atwater Police Department.

Several categories of crime statistics saw fluctuations in 2012 compared with previous years.

Though no homicides were reported in 2011, there were two in 2012, according to data from the Atwater Police Department. That's still down from five in 2010.

There were 32 robberies, 39 assaults, 384 traffic accidents and 2,244 bookings last year.

Residential burglaries dropped to 254 in 2012 from 355 in 2011, but commercial burglaries spiked to 97 from 17.

Lt. Sam Joseph said some of that has to do with the increased retail presence in Atwater.

Several big-box stores have located in Atwater in recent years, driving up the city's sales tax revenue, but at the same time attracting more retail crime. Certain shoplifting incidents being classified as commercial burglaries have bumped that figure.

But the department still wants to drive that trend down in 2013.

"We definitely want to improve on those commercial burglaries," Joseph said.

Officers also plan to focus on auto thefts in 2013. That statistic increased to 182 in 2012 from 102 in 2011.

That might be a challenge, since the Police Department is down several officers. Six spots that opened up because of retirements or injuries aren't being filled because of budget constraints.

Joseph said some special assignments, such as the department's special crimes unit, have been suspended because of a lack of manpower. He'd like to see that unit reinstated because it handles a lot of issues that patrol officers don't have time for.

"The suspects know that our manpower's low," he said. "When officer manpower is low, crime goes up."

Despite Atwater's financial woes, more public safety funding could become available if residents pass a measure during a March 5 special election for a half-cent sales tax aimed at supporting public safety.

Mayor Joan Faul said she's hopeful the measure will pass and said the money could be used to fill some of the positions that have been left vacant.

"This is a tax that is just specifically for public safety," she said. "We can't use it for anything but public safety."

The Atwater Police Officers' Association agreed to take a 22 percent pay cut in October, though their contract doesn't expire until 2014. Faul said she would like to see those salaries restored once the city gets its budget back on track.

Some officers are looking for work elsewhere because of the cuts to their salaries, she noted.

The Atwater Police Department's resident-to-officer ratio is is below the ideal set by the state, said Michelle Gray, the widow of Stephan Gray, a Merced police officer who was killed in the line of duty in 2004.

Michelle Gray, who worked on the sales tax proposal that's specifically earmarked for law enforcement, said she thinks it would go a long way toward improving the safety of the public and that of officers.

Along with the possibility of restoring some positions, the Atwater Police Department is encouraged by the rejuvenation of the city's neighborhood watch program.

Joseph said town hall meetings soon will be organized, in part to promote the neighborhood watch.

Reporter Mike North can he reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.


POLICE RESPONSES

CRIME 2010 2011 2012

Homicide 5 0 2

Residential burglaries 376 355 254

Commercial burglaries 20 17 97

Vehicle burglaries 157 167 89

Rapes 6 5 10

Sex assaults 45 43 24

Auto thefts 106 102 182

Petty thefts 553 599 589

Vandalism 504 509 405

Domestic violence 88 72 120

Service calls 31,149 27,284 25,287

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