Tire-slashing video evidence fell through cracks in online reporting system
A local couple believe they’ve held the key to solving a spate of tire slashings that have baffled their neighbors and law enforcement, but efforts to submit the evidence were ignored for months by the Chico Police Department.
Lindy Carter and Jeff Kelly woke up July 10 to find all of the tires on three separate vehicles slashed. The couple have two security cameras set up in their driveway, and video from the previous evening clearly shows two vehicles passing the house several times before a man emerges to slash the tires.
Carter said she called police the following day and was told to file an online report through the Coplogic system adopted by the CPD at the beginning of 2014—ostensibly to cut down on officer time spent dealing with property crimes—but a promised follow-up call from an officer never came. Carter said both she and Kelly called multiple times over the next several weeks, and were still never contacted.
“At some point we gave up … and started thinking about finding a new place to live,” Carter said, adding that that wasn’t the only time they’ve been victimized by crime recently. In the last year, groceries were stolen out of their backyard, water was poured into the gas tank of one vehicle, and the cameras were installed after Kelly’s truck was stolen.
The couple didn’t realize tire slashings had reached epidemic proportions in an adjacent neighborhood—with dozens of instances reported to police and on social media/virtual neighborhood watch site Nextdoor.com since July 16—until it was reported by CN&R (see “Slashing spree,” Newslines, Sept. 17). Carter said she was particularly shocked to read that police had no leads, no eye witness or video accounts, and that law enforcement and Chico City Councilman Randall Stone suspect members of the homeless population to be perpetrating the vandalism.
“I’m no fan of the homeless, but the people in our video are driving two vehicles and definitely don’t appear to be homeless,” she said.
Carter said it cost more than $1,000 per car to replace the tires, not counting towing fees, and that insurance helped only with one of the vehicles. She said they have yet to fix the last set of tires because of the cost.
Carter posted the videos to YouTube after the article came out, and was contacted by interim Lt. Rob Merrifield last week: “He apologized and admitted they’d messed up,” she said.
Sgt. Scott Zuschin, who oversees the area where the bulk of the slashings have occurred, confirmed that Merrifield contacted Carter. He said his department now has the videos, are attempting to identify the suspects, and that Carter and Kelly will be contacted by members of the CPD’s recently revived TARGET team in the next few days.
“It definitely slipped through the cracks,” Zuschin said of the video evidence and report, “and that’s the unfortunate result of understaffing combined with the Coplogic online reporting system. We get a great deal of video and evidence submitted online, and it’s just impossible to follow up on every single thing we get.”
Zuschin explained the department’s records department checks the online reports once a week, and it can take up to two more days for them to be processed and sent to an on-duty desk sergeant. Which crimes are addressed is then dependent on how many officers are available that day. He also said the CPD’s computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system is more than 20 years old and badly in need of an upgrade, which negatively affects the department’s ability to collect, analyze and process data from the online reports.
“We have a system for the online reports in place, but we have some staffing holes that slow it down,” he said. “We’re getting there, but for the moment we’re working with what we have.”
The last reported slashing Zuschin was aware of was on Sept. 14.
Zuschin also said that Carter and Kelly’s evidence, though significant, may not be the proverbial smoking gun: “That’s just one incident, and we don’t know if that incident is connected to any of the others,” he said.
In a phone interview Tuesday (Sept. 22), Stone said he doesn’t believe the people who slashed Carter and Kelly’s tires are responsible for the other crimes.
“I’m no crime analyst, but the M.O.’s are significantly different,” he said of the videotaped slashing versus the other incidents, noting many of the other crimes only target one vehicle at each property, and take place between midnight and 5 a.m. (The couple’s tires were slashed earlier in the evening). “The tires in the video are very methodically slashed, while the other crimes seem more random and driven by opportunity.”
Carter believes the video is significant, and said that had the CPD addressed it earlier—her report came a week before other reported slashings started—it might have saved her neighbors big bucks. She also expressed some concern.
“Someone came into our backyard and took our groceries and into our driveway and slashed our tires, and nothing’s been done,” she said. “Do we wait for someone to come in the house and slash our throats?”