GUSTINE -- Major crimes fell significantly here last year despite an increase in calls for service.
Homicides decreased in 2012 to zero from one in the previous year, according to data from the Gustine Police Department. Robberies, rapes, assaults, burglaries, larceny, stolen vehicles and arson also dropped off in 2012.
Calls for service increased to 5,523 from 4,859.
Police Chief Doug Dunford said the drop in crime and the spike in calls correlate.
Since Dunford joined the department in March 2011, he's encouraged his officers to connect with the community.
Now, residents are calling in more often when they notice something suspicious, and it's allowing officers to get ahead of some crimes, Dunford noted. "Our officers have made some key arrests," he said.
In addition to a beefed-up reserve program, the department added two officers at the end of 2012 for a total of nine full-time officers, Dunford said.
Last year, the department started a program with elementary schools in which police representatives teach children about bullying, how to keep themselves safe, and to stay away from drugs and alcohol.
And there's a town hall meeting planned for next month so residents can connect with the Police Department.
"We're trying to do more interaction with the kids and their parents so they feel safer and more secure coming to the police," Dunford said.
City Manager Greg Greeson agreed that an improved police presence has helped reduce crime.
"I think they've taken a more aggressive stance and are being more proactive than reactive, and I think that's shown," he said. "I think the officers have been a little more astute about what they're doing on the street and have better connections with those in the community."
The city was able to budget for the two additional officers by keeping a sergeant's spot vacant after a retirement and getting some funding from the school district, which wanted a full-time school resource officer.
Management is also "aggressively pursuing other funds" in trying to increase the size of the police force, Greeson said.
Mayor Dennis Brazil, who owns a fitness club in Gustine, said the city is fortunate that it isn't experiencing "rampant crime" as are some other nearby communities.
Brazil said Dunford has improved communication between residents and police, and people are paying more attention to what's happening in their community.
"I think that from his leadership skills and his structure of the department, it's definitely got our crime rate down," Brazil said. "When you have a community that is close-knit like we are, people watch out for each other."
Brazil encouraged residents to call dispatch or 911 if they notice anything suspicious in their neighborhoods or have concerns.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.