TURLOCK — Turlock's overall crime rate has dropped for the fifth consecutive year, yet a rise in some more serious and gun-related incidents has prompted public concern and action.
Crime was down 1 percent compared with the previous year, according to the Turlock Police Department's 2012 statistics report on what are called "Part 1" crimes. (Part 1 crimes are classified as homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.) But the decline has slowed significantly from previous years. The year before, crime was down 11 percent.
Turlock Police Chief Rob Jackson said the numbers might be deceptive. He said some crimes that residents deem minor might not be reported, skewing the statistics.
"Crime is still going down, but we have to ask, is it really?" Jackson said. "I love to see downward statistics in crime, but I'd rather see accurate statistics."
In 2012, aggravated assaults were up 28 percent and motor vehicle theft was up 44 percent. The number of firearms-related police calls jumped in the last half of the year, from 37 from June to December in 2011 to 51 in that same time period last year.
The violence has not gone unnoticed by some in the community. At the beginning of January, supporters of the Westside Ministries stood vigil each night for a week in Columbia Park in honor of fatal shooting victim David Hernandez. The 35-year-old was shot in front of his grandmother's South Avenue home on Dec. 29, the fifth homicide in Turlock of 2012. There was one murder the previous year.
The vigil, said Westside Ministries Director JoLynn DiGrazia, was a way to push back against violence in the community.
"We wanted to go to the park and show that we weren't going to stand for this kind of violence," DiGrazia said. "A shooting like this always shocks a community. We wanted to say in 2013 we aren't going to sit around and let things like this happen."
Jackson said the police force has noticed a changing tenor in the kinds of crimes and criminals it encounters in the city. He said aggravated assault, and even assaults on police officers, are on the rise.
He said he believes realignment, the state's massive push to move inmates from the state to local level, has contributed greatly to the changing nature of crimes committed.
"A lot more sophisticated and violent criminals are now likely to be at work," he said. "Realignment for us in the Central Valley has been pretty devastating."
Since October 2011, the overpopulated state prisons have transferred inmates to counties and communities. Because of limited space in jails, some found themselves back out on the streets.
"Unfortunately, we just don't have the bed space to absorb that number of inmates," Jackson said. "It is a real game changer. We'll work it out, but it will take time."
Residents concerned about violence in the community have brought it to the attention of City Council members. Turlock resident John Goldsmith attended a council meeting in January and inquired about gun buy-back programs that have been run in places such as Los Angeles and Seattle. He said earlier in the month, a senior citizen was robbed at gunpoint in his neighborhood, promoting his inquiry.
"Those kinds of programs have proven to be very successful in other communities," Goldsmith said. "(Gun violence) is a concern of mine and I am trying to see a safe solution."
Jackson said the Police Department plans to be more visible throughout the community and encourages crime prevention measures like creating neighborhood watches and self-defense classes.
He stressed the importance of crime reporting, and said even small things such as the theft of a bike or a lawn mower should be noted. He said more minor crimes can be reported online through the Police Department home page at www.turlock. ca.us/citydepartments/ policedepartment.
"If we don't have all the crime reported, it lessens our ability to put resources where they are needed," Jackson said. "I think Turlock is a safe community and we are doing OK. But we can always do better."
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2284. Follow her on Twitter, @turlocknow.