The crime stats are in — aggravated assaults rose 190 percent but overall Part I crimes were down 14 percent — so the question remains: Is Oakdale still a safe place to live?
The short answer, according to Police Chief Marty West, is yes but the rise in assaults is troubling and something West has earmarked for further investigation as to the cause.
“Aggravated assaults tripled last year (vs. the number in 2008) and it has me concerned…” West said. “I attribute the increase to the faltering economy and the impact it is having on society. There were 38 separate cases with a total of 61 victims.”
West said there didn’t seem to be a discernible pattern to the assaults as they ranged from domestic disputes to gang-related violence but one of the most serious cases involved the man who was shooting at passing motorists on West F Street on March 5. The man who was arrested for the crime was extremely intoxicated and was charged with attempted homicide.
Reports of rape also rose rapidly with a 133 percent increase going from three reported cases to seven, although not all cases turned out to be legitimate claims.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though, as reports of homicide, robbery, burglary, larceny and vehicle theft all saw marked decreases.
Vehicle theft was down 23 percent while robbery was down 61 percent.
West attributed the decrease to community awareness and the efforts of STANCATT (Stanislaus County Auto Theft Taskforce).
“There has been considerable publicity in recent years about the problem of auto theft in Stanislaus County,” West said. “I believe that people are taking preventative measures that they may not have taken years ago. For example, avoiding warming up their cars by leaving the motor running while the cars are parked unattended in a driveway. STANCATT’S distribution of steering wheel clubs, their use of bait cars, and their proactive efforts aimed at addressing people with a reputation for stealing cars is undoubtedly responsible for the decreases. The fact that we have a constant police presence in Oakdale certainly contributes to fewer thefts.”
The department used a total of 7,029.2 hours of overtime with the three top reasons being: special assignments, cover/holiday/vacation, and training.
When asked if West thought the overtime hours were on par with expectations since restructuring the department due to budget constraints last year, he said, “No. Last year at this time, it was anticipated that the City would have to lay off five to six officers in June 2009 to balance the fiscal year 2009-10 budget. Those officers with the least amount of seniority, the patrol officers, would have been laid off first. Given this scenario, the reorganization was designed to ensure that an adequate number of officers on would be on patrol to respond to emergency and non-emergency calls. Consequently, a traffic officer and two detectives were reassigned to patrol in July to allow for the loss of what was anticipated to be four to five patrol officer positions.
“Fortunately, layoffs were avoided last June as the result of employee concessions. Nonetheless, the reorganization plan was still implemented. One of the concessions was a plan by the Oakdale Police Officers’ Association to reduce overtime expenditures by $100,000 in fiscal year 2009-10. Today, the Department is not on track to meet this goal. Part of the problem is that employees must appear in court to testify on criminal cases and are compensated in overtime for those appearances. They must also meet certain ongoing training requirements in classroom settings out of town. In addition, major events occurring in Oakdale necessitate police employee call-out to support a SWAT action. Such was the case in December when a shooting incident occurred in the 600 block of South Sierra. Finally, the Department’s lack of staffing in the dispatch center creates situations where it is necessary to hire back dispatchers due to illnesses or other absences. Our dispatch supervisor retired in July and funding is not available to backfill the position. Periodically, the supervisor backfilled dispatcher vacancies caused by illnesses and vacations. All of these situations drive up the use of overtime and consequently our overtime costs.”
While overall citations were down 21 percent, revenue from parking citations netted the department $32,880.39, which was funneled back into the General Fund and earmarked for the Police Department.
The crime stats provide a snapshot of the City and police services. In evaluating the findings, West determined several key areas targeted for improvement, such as reducing the number of pedestrian-related traffic collisions and lowering the number of aggravated assaults.
To that end, the department has applied for a traffic grant with the Office of Traffic Safety seeking an award of $50,000 that will allow traffic and patrol officers to work overtime to increase enforcement efforts and educate the public about pedestrian safety on city roads and highways.
“The objective of the grant includes hiring officers on overtime to patrol the high school, junior high, and elementary schools for pedestrian-related traffic violations,” West said. “It also involves giving a presentation at school-related functions to teachers, parents, and students. Finally, the grant would pay for much needed radar operator training and traffic investigation training for the officers.”
In regards to the aggravated assaults, West continued, saying, “The Department is using Redevelopment Funding (RDA) to address gang-related problems and other situations that are causing blight and crime in the City’s RDA areas. Each month, a team of officers works an extra shift on overtime to focus on known gang members who are on parole and probation and subject to search and seizure.”
Overall, West said he was pleased with the crime stats, drawing attention to the fact that there were no homicides in Oakdale last year.