Hemig: Grass Valley crime stats improving, but still work to do
July 25, 2014
I have been rather direct regarding my opinion of the crime and drug coverage in The Union.
In my column on April 3, I explained that The Union has a responsibility to report the happenings of this community. We need to reflect the good and the bad that affects our lives in Nevada County.
I still maintain that the newspaper provides a conduit for conversation about these matters. If we don't report the drug and crime problems in our area, there won't be a community discussion about these important issues.
On June 13, I wrote about a young member of our community offering me a hit off his marijuana pipe while I was walking in downtown Grass Valley.
Overall, I’d agree with Chief Foster that the Grass Valley Police Department is making progress and moving the needle in the right direction.
Again, I mentioned the impact drugs and crime have on our community and the possible effect on how locals and visitors view our town.
I received a lot of emails and phone calls regarding my two columns. One of the phone calls was from the Grass Valley Chief of Police, John Foster.
Chief Foster politely invited me to the police station to share what he and the Grass Valley Police Department are doing about local crime. I was impressed that he wasn't defensive about the directness of my column.
He said, "I hear you met one of my clients," in reference to my pot-sharing friend. "I'd like to show you around the station and share what we're doing to improve our community."
It's not every day you're invited to chat with the Chief of Police. We met the following week, and he shared some very interesting information with me.
Upon our introduction, I found Chief Foster's approach to community law enforcement quite comforting. It was obvious he wants people to see the police department as part of the community.
"Treat people the way you want to be treated," he said. "And treat every call as if it's the most important call of the day."
Those opening comments were words anyone would want to hear from their local law enforcement.
But words only mean so much. What is being done to improve our safety and quality of life?
The Union reports on so many drug and criminal activities. What's being done about that? Chief Foster was prepared to show me some hard facts from a recent agency 2010-2013 comparison report. Facts I was quite surprised and eager to share.
First, crime is down from 2012 to 2013. Well, down in most categories. Arrests are down 40 percent. Warrant arrests are down 36.5 percent. Calls for service are down 12.5 percent. Assault is down seven percent. This is great news.
However, robbery is up 25 percent, albeit only from eight to 10. And vehicle theft is up 37 percent, from 51 to 70 from 2012 to 2013.
Overall, I'd agree with Chief Foster that the Grass Valley Police Department is making progress and moving the needle in the right direction.
The second aspect he shared with me, and the one I found more important, was how Grass Valley compared in criminal statistics with neighboring communities.
Auburn (13,468), Placerville (10,441) and Truckee (16,156) are roughly the same population size as Grass Valley (12,808). Yet Grass Valley has far more criminal activity.
Grass Valley had 24,635 calls for service in 2013 to Auburn's 20,731, Placerville's 14,649 and Truckee's 13,360. Grass Valley had 84 percent more calls for service than Truckee and 19 percent more than Auburn. And both towns have more people than Grass Valley.
Many specific categories show the same. More assault, more burglary, more vehicle theft, more arrests, more arrest warrants and more number of reports. In every category, Grass Valley is higher than Auburn, Placerville and Truckee. Every category.
Chief Foster cautioned me that these numbers only provide a high-level overview and may not be comparable "apples to apples." He mentioned his police department is far more proactive and their effort contributes to the total number of calls for service.
To me, the comparison between Grass Valley and our neighboring communities supports my view on covering crime on the front page of The Union. This needs our community's attention.
The Grass Valley Police Department is focusing its efforts and making a difference. The decline from 2012 to 2013 is a great start and shows we're on the right path.
Chief Foster has also started a new program called The Strategic Response Team.
The team's mission is to identify problems and crime trends that negatively impact the quality of life for residents, business owners and visitors to our community. The primary focus of the team is to target adverse and repetitive criminal activity impacting the quality of life and resources in our community.
In my opinion, Chief Foster understands the impact crime has on our community and quality of life. But there is still work to do. As Chief Foster and the Grass Valley Police Department endeavor to improve the quality of life in our community, The Union will continue to report on the criminal activity and progress made toward reducing our statistics, until we're the kind of community we aspire to be, to both locals and visitors alike.
Jim Hemig is publisher at The Union. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 530-477-4299.
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