MERCED — Overall reported crime in Merced went down about 20 percent during the first half of the year, though violent crime inched up slightly, according to mid-year statistics released by the Police Department.
The latest statistics contrast with 2012's dramatic increase in Merced, during which overall crime went up about 25 percent — one of the steepest crime increases in the city's history.
The statistics, compiled by Merced police analyst Lance Eber, look at Part 1 crimes, which generally include violent offenses: murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery and assault. Included among Part 1 crimes are property crimes: burglary, theft, auto theft and arson.
According to the data, property crimes in Merced went down about 27 percent during the first half of this year, compared with the same period in 2012. Violent crime, however, went up about 3.59 percent during the first six months of this year.
Police Chief Andrade said he cautiously optimistic about the decreases in some categories, but violent crime remains his main concern. Andrade said Merced's data in some ways is similar to national and state trends.
For example, violent crime statewide went up about 3 percent in 2012 from 2011, and property crimes went up about 7 percent, the state Department of Justice's "Crime in California" reported.
According to the FBI, violent crimes reported to law enforcement nationwide went up 1.2 percent last year compared with 2011, and property crimes went down 0.8 percent.
Andrade said fewer officers on the street and more criminals being released early from jail are probably contributing to the increases in crime on Merced's streets.
Andrade said police are finding more young people with guns, but that officers are getting more guns off the street.
Statewide, debate is ongoing about whether Assembly Bill 109, the state's prison realignment law, is causing a rise in crime. Under AB 109, thousands of inmates who normally would have gone to state prison have been reassigned to local jurisdictions.
Andrade said the "indirect consequences" of the state prison realignment law probably have played a role.
"You have people that are being released early from jail. They might not be an actual AB 109 person, however, because the jails have to release people — people we pick up for drug use — they go right back out.
"How do they buy their drugs? They steal, they bust into houses, they rob people, they are thieves," Andrade said. "The (decreases) are encouraging, but we still have a lot more work to do."
Andrade said the decreases in crime that have happened are because of the hard work and diligence of his officers, who have had to do more work with fewer resources and personnel.
The Merced Police Department has 78 sworn officers to police a city of more than 80,000 people, compared with 111 officers six years ago.
Andrade said he has budgeted to have 88 officers on the force, and that his department is seeking to fill 10 positions. Four of those positions will be funded by grants.
Merced reported four homicides during the first half of this year, compared with three last year during the same period. The city had nine homicides in all of 2012, and has reported five from January to August of this year.
Among violent crimes, reported incidents of rape dropped the most significantly, with seven incidents reported during the first six months of this year, compared with 13 reported during the same period last year — a 46.15 percent drop.
Andrade said another area of concern is reported assaults in which a gun was used. While overall assaults went down 12.88 percent during the first half of this year, assaults in which a gun was used went up 80.95 percent.
The city reported 38 assaults in which a gun was used as a weapon during the first half of 2013, compared with 21 during the same period last year.
According to the data, there were more incidents of arson reported during the first half of this year than during all of 2012. Last year, the city reported 57 incidents of arson.
The big increase in arson fires was because of a chain of large trash bin fires in which the police made arrests, Andrade said. Merced Fire Chief Mike McLaughlin said some of the trash fires were started by juveniles — though not all.
McLaughlin said firefighters are doing a better job of working with Merced police detectives to identify incidents of arson and track down information to arrest culprits.
City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or email@example.com.
Merced Part 1 Crimes (2013-2012)
Homicides: 4 (2013) 3 (2012) -- up 33 percent
Rapes: 7 (2013) 13 (2012) -- down 46.15 percent
Robberies: 77 (2013) 110 (2012) -- down 30 percent
Assaults: 517 (2013) 458 (2012) -- up 12.88 percent
Burglaries: 328 (2013) 470 (2012) -- down 30.21 percent
Thefts: 841 (2013) 1278 (2012) -- down 34.19 percent
Auto Thefts: 207 (2013) 212 (2012) --down 2.36 percent
Gun: 38 (2013) 21 (2012) --up 80.95 percent
Knife/Blade: 25 (2013) 26 (2012), --down 3.85 percent
Other weapon: 31 (2013) 36 (2012) -- down 13.89 percent
Hands/feet/fist: 112 (2013) 186 (2012) --down 39.78 percent
Other/non-agg: 311 (2013) 189 (2012) -- up 64.55 percent
Armed w//weapon: 42 (2013) 41 (2012) -- up 2.44 percent
No weapon: 35 (2013) 69 (2012) -- down 49.28 percent
Arson: 61 (2013) 25 (2012) -- up 144 percent