Crime on the rise?

Last week’s release of Chico’s 2014 crime statistics brought with it cries of a dramatic increase in crime reports. Headlines and TV news broadcasts hyped the increase, but paid little attention to the simultaneous announcement that a new online reporting system likely rendered at least some of it invalid.

That system, called CopLogic, allows victims of property crimes to self-report to the Chico Police Department. So, if you had your bike stolen from outside your apartment, you could log on to CopLogic and report it yourself.

“With that new technology, we’ve seen more people reporting crimes than they had in the past,” explained Chico Police Capt. Mike O’Brien.

The system was implemented in January 2014 as a way to make more efficient use of police staff time. Considering property crimes make up the majority of crime in Chico, it no doubt freed up officers to respond to more pressing calls. In 2014, there were 3,647 crimes reported, of which at least half came through CopLogic.

Chico PD Crime Analyst Robert Woodward warns in his introduction to the statistics that CopLogic may provide numbers that can’t be fairly compared with previous years.

“A significant change in crime reporting in Chico (via CopLogic) has resulted in a much greater number of Part I Crimes, specifically larcenies …” he writes. “It is a reasonable assumption that larcenies were underreported in previous years and the 2014 number is an improved estimate of the number of these crimes in Chico.”

Another contextual issue that the media seemed to miss or gloss over was the fact that in the past 15 years, 2014 was only the third highest for reported crimes when related to the population size, with 2002 and 2004 being higher.

“We had a lot of crime occurring back in 2002 and 2004, obviously,” O’Brien said. “That doesn’t diminish what’s going on right now. I’m not saying the sky is falling, but we are recognizing a clear trend from 2011 to 2014—a 47 percent increase in part I crimes. That is significant.”

It does sound significant. And the stats do show a steady increase in crime from 2011—the low—to 2014. Then again, as Woodward pointed out, last year’s numbers likely have been skewed by CopLogic, so it’s too soon to get a full picture of what that purported 47 percent rise in crime represents. From 2011 to 2013, for instance, there was only a 23 percent increase.

Crimes against persons are not reported online, so those numbers are more reliable. They, too, show an increase—of 9.4 percent.

“Crimes against persons will always be our priority,” O’Brien said. “The fact that those numbers are also going up is extremely concerning. Property is property—it can be replaced. When you’re assaulted, or sexually assaulted, that leaves a lasting scar unfortunately.”

When it comes to pointing fingers at probable causes for the increase in crime last year, O’Brien and interim police Chief Mike Dunbaugh, in a memo to the city regarding the statistics, look primarily to staffing levels.

“The reduction in law enforcement resources has significantly harmed our ability to be responsive in efforts to try to help our community,” Dunbaugh writes.

O’Brien said the department is looking forward to hiring more officers, a move recently approved by the city manager and City Council.

“The increase in Part I crimes coincides with staffing shortages, but that doesn’t explain everything,” O’Brien said. “There are a variety of factors that have caused our crime numbers to go up.”

He pointed to Assembly Bill 107—prison realignment—and Proposition 47, which reduced sentences for certain crimes, as probable factors. He also said he’s noticed an increase in calls regarding mentally ill individuals who either haven’t been diagnosed, have been misdiagnosed or for some reason or another aren’t on their medication.

“And there’s also an element of the homeless population that are criminally inclined,” O’Brien said. “I’m not saying that’s the majority—that’s not at all what I’m inferring—but there is an element that is clearly geared more toward criminal activity.”