Chief, sheriff offer reasons behind drop in property, other crimes in Stanislaus County

Stanislaus County last year experienced a drop in reported crimes, including homicide, rape, robbery, burglary and vehicle theft, according to statistics released by the FBI this week.

Modesto alone had a 20 percent drop in homicides; from 20 in 2017 to 16 in 2018. Reported violent crimes in Modesto were down 8.2 percent last year, and vehicle thefts were down 15.2 percent.

Police Chief Galen Carroll attributed the overall decline in Modesto to the use of predictive policing and more officers on the streets. He also said “some of it is just luck.”

Throughout the county, violent crime dropped 4.2 percent, which included a 2.4 percent decline in homicides. The county also had a 8.9 percent drop in reported property crimes. This year, the homicide numbers are trending lower, as well, figures compiled by The Bee show.

Nationwide, violent crime declined 3.3 percent, and property crime decreased 6.3 percent, according to Crime in the United States 2018, an annual crime statistics report produced by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program.

Stanislaus County Sheriff Jeff Dirkse said his department has made changes to its investigative work to improve efficiency. Dirkse took office in January. He was in charge of police services last year in Patterson, when it had a 24.6 percent drop in property crime.

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But the sheriff also believes the public has been adversely influenced by a perceived lack of accountability for low-level offenders throughout the state, including drug-related crimes or property crimes. He thinks residents might consider it a waste of time to report these types of crimes.

“I think people report crimes less,” Dirkse said. “If your kid’s skateboard gets stolen off your front lawn, are you really going to report that? Ten years ago, you might have. I think now there’s a certain frustration from the public.”

In Modesto, Carroll says his department’s property crime detectives are spending less time in the office and more time on the streets. Also, a change in the department’s patrol schedule dedicated one day each month for each squad to do proactive policing in problem areas of the city.

Reported property crimes dropped 8.7 percent in Modesto last year. That includes burglary, theft and vehicle theft. The other incorporated cities in Stanislaus County experienced drops in property crimes last year. So did Escalon, Ripon and Sonora.

The Modesto Police Department’s predictive policing software can help identify an area of 500 square feet in which there’s an uptick in crimes. Carroll said officers, volunteers or cadets are directed to saturate those areas in an effort to prevent future crimes.

More recently, detectives began receiving crime reports daily, so they can start investigating crimes more quickly, Carroll said. It used to take three to four days to send all the reports on a crime through the department’s records system before the detectives could begin investigating.

“At least, (the detectives) are notified of the call,” Carroll said about the daily reports. “They might not have all the reports yet, but they are aware of it and can start looking into it.”

In Patterson, Dirkse said he re-tasked detectives there. Now, patrol deputies can quickly follow up on certain crimes, such as home burglaries, instead of a slower process of relaying information to detectives. Now, detectives are going after drugs and drug dealers, who sell narcotics to addicted thieves.

“These guys are stealing to support their drug habit,” the sheriff said.

That’s one way to significantly reduce property crime, Dirkse said, but so is taking a prolific thief off the street. He said cameras, including Ring doorbell cameras designed to catch porch thieves red-handed, can provide crucial information to investigators to lock up a repeat offender.

Home security cameras can also serve as a deterrent, Dirkse said, but thieves might just target homes that don’t have cameras. Like the police chief, the sheriff said a decline in crime can be the result of good police work; or not.

“Sometimes, some of it can be random luck,” Dirkse said.

In Modesto, crime analysts produce weekly reports to identify spikes in certain crimes.

“If we are paying attention to the changes in crime weekly, then you can jump on things and identify that this is happening before two or three months go by and you have a lot more crime,” Carroll said. “We can impact that by paying attention to small changes.”

The police chief said weekly reports helped them catch a burglary crew that was targeting storage units in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.

Officials have said that investigators conducted surveillance on two suspects, who were arrested after a Modesto officer saw them breaking into metal storage containers at a Lodi church. Investigators recovered guns, antiques, clocks and other property stolen from a storage business on Sylvan Avenue in Modesto.

The Modesto Police Department also is using crime analysts to determine what’s behind two of the city’s most prolific crimes, auto theft and aggravated assault.

Police targeted auto thefts with a key awareness campaign earlier this year. A department crime analysis found that in 22 percent of Modesto auto thefts in 2018 the keys or fobs were left in the vehicle or had keys that had been stolen or otherwise were unaccounted for.

In Stanislaus County, reported vehicle thefts dropped 20 percent last year. The area’s auto theft rate has ranked in the top 10 nationally for more than a decade, including the No. 1 spot several times.

Modesto police officials also learned that most aggravated assaults stem from domestic violence. Carroll said his department plans to work with the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office to require couples get counseling if the victim wants assault charges dropped.

The sheriff says he tells his investigators to focus on the criminal, not the crime. It’s not necessarily about solving the burglary, Dirkse said, it’s about putting the criminal in prison. There’s a finite number of detectives, and Dirkse would rather focus them on the worst criminals to make a significant impact.

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Rosalio Ahumada writes news stories about criminal court cases in Stanislaus County for The Modesto Bee, issues related to immigration and immigrant communities and breaking news related to crime and public safety. From time to time, he covers the Modesto City Council meetings. He has worked as a news reporter in the Northern San Joaquin Valley since 2004.
Erin has been covering breaking news and crime at The Modesto Bee since 2010. She is a Humboldt State graduate and resides in Oakdale.