Slashing spree

Neighborhood residents terrorized by rash of vehicle vandalism

All of the tire slashing has occurred late at night or early in the morning.

All of the tire slashing has occurred late at night or early in the morning.

Photo courtesy of iStock

Dozens of Chico residents—mostly living in the same area—have become victims of a senseless and costly crime in the last two months. The attacks happen in the dead of night, usually in the victims’ front yards as they sleep soundly, and no one knows why they’ve been targeted. Despite community efforts and enhanced police patrols, the crime wave shows no sign of ebbing.

Between Aug. 5 and Sept. 9, 18 separate incidents of tire slashing were reported to the Chico Police Department, mostly between Mangrove Avenue and Highway 99, north of Lower Bidwell Park and south of Lindo Channel. The numbers reported on—a social media/virtual neighborhood watch application CPD recently adopted—are much higher. Information compiled from that site as of Tuesday (Sept. 15) indicates 40 separate incidents resulting in 107 total slashed tires, with all but 10 incidents occurring within those boundaries. Some of the slashings also included rocks or bark being put into vehicles’ gas tanks.

Residents also have reported paying damages and insurance deductibles of up to $1,000 in cases where multiple tires were slashed on the same vehicle.

Chico City Councilman Randall Stone lives and works in the area, and said in a phone interview that he has been following the situation since it emerged on Nextdoor. He also said he’s been quietly working with neighbors, city and police officials to address the issue, fearing that media attention “might encourage copycats.” Stone’s tires haven’t been slashed, but he said several near his home and office have been.

Chico Police Lt. Rob Merrifield said tire slashings tend to be isolated events perpetrated by known suspects with a beef, but the current spree is different.

“None of the people seem to have any personal connection with each other, or anyone angry with them,” Merrifield said. “There doesn’t seem to be any common thread other than the neighborhood they live in. We don’t get this kind of thing happening often, especially concentrated in one area.

“We haven’t had a single incident in which anyone saw a suspect, or even a glimpse of someone running away,” he added. “It definitely seems like someone has an issue with someone in the neighborhood, or they just feel really comfortable there at night when that street is very dark, like maybe somebody living in the channel.”

Many Nextdoor users, including Stone, have come to the same conclusion. Stone was quick to note a difference between the homeless population and a criminal subset engaged in antisocial behavior.

“This isn’t about homelessness; this is about theft and vandalism,” Stone said. “My take on this is that it appears to be vandalism as retribution for attempts to crack down on vagrancy.”

Stone said using the app enabled residents to see the pattern and mobilize a reaction.

One Nextdoor user, Peter Hansen, compiled all of the reports into a spreadsheet and map that can be updated and edited by other users. A plot of the incidents clearly indicates a swath of slashings centered around Arbutus Avenue.

Residents organized a meeting Aug. 20 at Hooker Oak Elementary School attended by Merrifield, two other CPD personnel, Assistant City Manager Chris Constantin, Stone and about 75 citizens. This led to several neighbors walking the streets in groups at night and increased police attention.

“The neighbors are really doing everything they should be,” Merrifield said. “They’re talking to each other, they’ve made the rest of their neighbors aware of the problem, they’ve met with police, and they’ve installed more lights and surveillance cameras.”

Merrifield said he couldn’t comment on all of the CPD’s current strategies, but said for now they’re focusing on following up on each new complaint.

“We’re not referring [victims] to online reporting; we’re asking people to call,” he said. “We want officers coming out to look for any physical evidence and talk to every victim individually.”