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Rocklin crime rate lowest in decade; vehicle theft on the rise

Police budget decreases each year, minimal staffing makes public safety a challenge
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald correspondent
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Rocklin resident Jared Higgins remembers the night he was robbed at gunpoint by three men outside a home in a development off Blue Oaks Boulevard.

“They pulled a gun on me. They said, ‘Give me your wallet and your cellphone and went through my car, took whatever they wanted and drove off,” Higgins said.

That happened two years ago, but Higgins is not afraid and thinks it was an exception given Rocklin’s low crime rate.

In his annual report, Rocklin Police Chief Ron Lawrence announced the crime rate in the city has dropped to its lowest level in a decade.

“So if you go back 10 years, last year had the lowest crime rate,” Lawrence told the City Council at its March 12 meeting.

Lawrence reports 16.7 major crimes per 1,000 residents, which is trending down from 25.3 in 2008. Every category, including rape, robbery, assault, burglary and arson, is down from 2011. Only vehicle theft stayed the same, at 62 incidents each year. The council applauded the department for its efforts.

In the last quarter of 2011, burglary had jumped 26 percent, so RPD changed strategies to address it.

That included making traffic officers more visible as a deterrent to burglars, which led to them writing fewer tickets, but also helped the number of burglaries go down from 267 in 2011 to 243 last year.

“Burglary is still one of our strategic goals,” said Lt. Jamie Knox. “While things have quieted down, it’s still on our radar and we’re still looking at it.”

While crime is sliding, so is the Police Department budget, which has dropped every year since the recession began, or $2.4 million since 2008. RPD has also dropped staff to 0.88 sworn officers per 1,000 residents, where one officer per 1,000 is the national standard.

“While we operate the Police Department in a safe and efficient manner, our budget and staffing numbers remain below optimal levels for a city our size with the level of activity that we have,” Lawrence said. “There is a hazard in operating public safety at minimal staffing levels. It becomes a real challenge.”

Police calls for service went up from 25,899 in 2011 to 27,145, or about 74 per day. Officer-initiated activities like traffic stops and checks also went up from 31,658 in 2011 to 46,589 last year. Lawrence was proud of the fact that despite the huge number of activities throughout the year, there were only five formal citizen complaints filed against the Police Department. He did not elaborate on what the complaints involved.

Lawrence thanked his staff for working hard and stepping up, and said being creative is one of the reasons why the crime rate is so low.

“The second reason are the good citizens who live here,” Lawrence said. “Law-abiding citizens of Rocklin care about their community and collaborate with us to reduce crime, remove blight and apprehend criminals.”

One of those concerned citizens is Carte Jewelers owner Roy Arriaga, who’d like to see more communication from police and other business owners who become victims of crime to get the word out.

“What happens is we don’t hear about crime,” he said. “As a business, we need to be aware. I understand you don’t want to give the community a bad name. But we all need to keep an eye out. Who’s to say I don’t have a camera with someone on it coming and going and I can help out?”

Arriaga said Rocklin has a “phenomenal” police force, but needs a business crime watch, much like neighborhood crime watches. Rocklin’s Neighborhood Watch coordinator Mike Nottoli said business owners like Arriaga are welcome at watch captain meetings for training and information.

“These meetings have proven to be valuable and a great way to provide block captains with information to share with their members,” Nottoli said.

So what is trending for 2013? Knox said police are tracking an uptick in auto theft and larceny, which is the theft of more expensive property.

“Vehicle theft is on the rise,” Knox said. “We went from one vehicle theft in January to nine in February. So essentially we went up 900 percent.”

Knox recommends people never leave their keys inside their car, lock their doors and keep valuables out of plain sight.

Higgins hopes fellow residents won’t take the news of the low crime rate as an excuse to be complacent.

“I thought the (robbers) were going to ask for directions or something – I was in a pretty decent neighborhood,” he remembered. “There are crimes that happen everywhere.”