Crime increase in Grass Valley: a perception or a reality? |

Crime increase in Grass Valley: a perception or a reality?

Grass Valley Police Officer Clint Lovelady walks along a fire access road in Grass Valley en route to a homeless encampment late last year.
Elias Funez/ |

Several Nevada County residents expressed concerns at Tuesday’s Grass Valley City Council meeting over suspicious and criminal activities, which they said are rampant throughout the city.

“I just don’t understand how our city can allow this to happen,” said Nevada County resident Michelle Hughes. “I feel like I have a right to be safe in Grass Valley — and I’m not safe.”

Some complained that the city isn’t doing enough to address the perceived rise in crime.

“I hope the city gets something done, instead of the citizens. It’s almost to that point,” said Grass Valley resident Ted Burt.

Burt said times have changed in Grass Valley.

“I grew up going to the Del Oro and I used to leave my keys in the car,” he said. “That’s the way it used to be. It’s not that way anymore.”

Burt said he wasn’t sure who or what to blame for the crime he sees and hears about.

“I’m not saying it’s homelessness, because homelessness isn’t a crime. But I’m sorry, when they start defecating on your porch, or wiping their rear ends on people’s tarps, or leaving stolen stuff in your yard, something has to be done,” he said.

Many of those who complained noted that there aren’t easy solutions to the problems they’ve observed.

Eduh Gat said that Grass Valley’s many organizations and individuals that provide services to the homeless population make the city “a good place for homeless.”

He compared giving resources to homeless people to “feeding coyotes.” The metaphor, he said, is particularly relevant for his neighborhood, where some residents once put out food for the local coyotes, which resulted in many more coyotes showing up for a meal the next night.

“We need to hold responsible the people and organizations that feed the coyotes,” said Gat.

Pauli Halstead, former manager of the Streicher House, a daytime homeless shelter in Nevada City that closed in April, said that increasing affordable housing opportunities in the county could help curb the crime issue.

“We will get some of these problems off the street, especially with the mentally ill, if we can put them in very-low-income and supportive housing,” she said.

by the numbers

According to Grass Valley Police Chief Alex Gammelgard, the idea that crime rates have spiked in recent years is largely based on perception.

“Statistically speaking, based on the numbers, crime in Grass Valley is tracking relatively consistent over the last few years,” Gammelgard said in an interview. He said the perception is caused by a multitude of factors.

Increased access to information, provided by the internet, and “the banter that occurs on Facebook groups,” he said, has made people more aware of crimes. He said law enforcement is also more transparent than ever, and citizens can now easily view the county jail’s booking record or the police department’s daily activity logs online.

He added that the propensity of homeless camps, and the fire risks associated with them, “heightens our senses and make us more aware.”

When you add up those factors, Gammelgard said, the perception that crime has increased becomes easy to understand.

“There’s not a statistical change — but that being said, I’ve lived here my entire life, and I’ll say that what I see in town sometimes isn’t what I saw a decade ago. The way people are feeling shouldn’t be discounted by trying to put statistics in front of them.”

The best way to curb the perception that crime has increased in the city, Gammelgard said, is for the police department to provide factual information to the community through both social and traditional media outlets.

“We are also focusing our efforts on areas we know our community is concerned about — specifically fire dangers, environmental risks and theft-related issues related to the transient activity we’re experiencing,” he said.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Pera, email or call 530-477-4231.

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