Crime

Despite what you might think, crime in Merced fell in 2016, police chief says

Merced police Chief Norm Andrade talks about the city’s 2016 crime statistics during a City Council meeting on Tuesday.
Merced police Chief Norm Andrade talks about the city’s 2016 crime statistics during a City Council meeting on Tuesday. tmiller@mercedsunstar.com

Overall crime in Merced is down by 2 percent, a fact that contradicts what many city residents may believe, according to police Chief Norm Andrade.

The largest swing in statistics came in homicides, with only one recorded in the city in 2016, compared with 11 reported the previous year.

Speaking before the City Council on Tuesday, Andrade said robbery reports fell by 11 percent, and aggravated assault and burglary crimes each fell by 6 percent in the city of roughly 85,000 people.

“People have been saying (Merced’s) bad – it’s all these kind of things,” he said. “If they would bother to look at the stats, they would see, over the past 10 years, we’re pretty damn good.”

2 percentHow much crime declined from 2015 to 2016, police say

A number of factors such as “predictive policing” and an increase in officers contributed to the falling crime rate in the 25-square-mile city, Andrade said, but he attributed a large portion to the work of the city’s Gang Violence Suppression Unit.

The unit made 205 gang arrests, and confiscated 110 of the 206 firearms taken off the street, numbers show. Officers took 173 guns in 2015, and 147 the year before that.

Andrade said investigators in 2016 made arrests in three “cold case” homicides, saying the detectives had more time to spend on the older cases because of the drop in homicides last year.

Over the past 10 years, according to the numbers, there have been 78 homicides and police have solved 45 of them, giving the department a 58 percent clearance rate. He said about half of the homicides in Merced in the past three years were gang-related.

“It’s the hardest crime to prevent,” Andrade said about homicide. “It’s a crime of passion most of the time.”

People have been saying (Merced’s) bad – it’s all these kind of things. If they would bother to look at the stats, they would see, over the past 10 years, we’re pretty damn good.

Police Chief Norm Andrade

The city’s south side gets an unfair rap, Andrade said, noting just 18 percent of calls for police come from south of Highway 99. That compares with about 42 percent from central Merced – between the highway and Bear Creek – and about 40 percent north of that.

Not all segments of the report showed declining numbers. Rape reports rose by 13 percent in 2016, auto theft was up by 6 percent and larceny climbed by 1 percent, numbers show. Andrade attributed the rise in rape reports to victims being more willing to report the violence.

He also blamed the rates that rose on recent changes in state laws, such as Assembly Bill 109 and Proposition 47, that resulted in shorter prison sentences for some offenders.

“They are letting very, very bad people out,” he said. “These are people that should be behind bars.”

A lot of times the police department or the fire department are some of the biggest ambassadors of the city because you constantly wear the city emblem.

Councilman Josh Pedrozo

The police department is staffed with 89 sworn officers, which includes those still in training, and has a budget for 94. Andrade said the department is still down 20 officers from its peak in 2007.

Councilman Anthony Martinez said constituents have noticed that crime is declining, especially the number of homicides.

Calling the decline in the overall rate “pretty impressive,” Councilman Josh Pedrozo thanked the chief and the department for their work.

“A lot of times the police department or the fire department are some of the biggest ambassadors of the city,” he said, “because you constantly wear the city emblem.”

Thaddeus Miller: 209-385-2453, @thaddeusmiller

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