Law enforcement: Crime in Nevada County remains consistent
February 28, 2018
We hear it on a daily basis in Nevada County: crime is on the rise, the streets and parks are unsafe, this town isn't what it once was.
Last year, a website, "Roadsnacks.net," called Grass Valley one of the top five most dangerous cities in California, based on crime reporting statistics. On social media, the link to that report was posted numerous times. Many local residents were concerned.
In July, The Union talked with local law enforcement officials in Grass Valley, Nevada City and Nevada County to get their perspectives on the situation. What we found was, statistically speaking, the number of reported crimes hasn't changed much over the past five years.
By the numbers, crime has been relatively stagnant.
“Is Nevada County a safe county? I think it’s one of the safest places to live. Compare us to Los Angeles. Compare us to Sacramento.”
— Sheriff Keith Royal
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Now that 2017 has come and gone, we've revisited those numbers to see if much has changed.
The Grass Valley Police Department reported one homicide in 2017 — up from zero in the five years prior.
Police Chief Alex Gammelgard said the event was tied to a possible drug transaction.
"Historically, between zero and one homicides in the city is pretty consistent," he said. "Statistically, this isn't alarming. But any homicide investigation is, of course, taken seriously."
No rapes were reported in 2017. Incidences of arson have decreased over the past five years.
There were eight reported robberies, which was fairly consistent in the five years prior. The number of burglaries and larceny were relatively stagnant, too.
Motor vehicle theft increased in 2017. Between 2012 and 2016, there were anywhere from 18 to 29 reported incidents. In 2016, there were 44.
The number of assaults was not yet calculated for 2017, according to Gammelgard.
"There are little ebbs and flows in different areas," Gammelgard said. "But overall, I think we're pretty flat."
Graphic created by Content Editor Samantha Sullivan
The police chief said he often hears rumors about rampant crime in Grass Valley.
"If you follow a lot of the local social media, you'll see it's a conversation on a daily basis. … I think people are a lot more aware of things now, which can be a good thing," he said. "A lot of folks talk about it. I acknowledge that, in fact, it feels different in our community. But unless it's related to a lack of crimes being reported, the numbers don't reflect that."
Gammelgard said the public perception of safety in Grass Valley has worsened in recent years.
Last summer, dozens showed up to City Council meetings and urged Grass Valley officials to address what they called rampant crime.
In recent months, some have thanked the council members for stepping up to help the issue. Others have stuck by their concerns, often pointing to transient populations causing problems and committing crimes.
"One of the big concerns in our community is the visual impact of homelessness, and that's a big driver of people's perception of safety," he said. "Driving around, you see people you didn't see before. That's a conversation our community needs to continue to have: how we address it."
The police department, he said, has been cracking down on illegal camping to reduce the associated fire risk and working together with other community stakeholders to help solve the issue of homelessness.
In Nevada City, the numbers of many crimes have decreased.
There wasn't a homicide reported during the five-year window The Union received statistics for.
One rape was reported in 2017 and 2016 each, down from three in 2013 and 2014 and two in 2015.
The Police Department received 19 reports of aggravated assault in 2013 and 33 in 2014. In 2017, there were six.
Burglaries have decreased from 36 in 2014 to 22 in 2017. The number of larceny reports has fluctuated slightly over the past five years, with no significant increase or decrease.
No arson reports were made last year.
Vehicle thefts went up in 2017. Between 2013 and 2016, there were 13 to 15 reports per year. In 2017, there were 29.
According to Lt. Chad Ellis with the Nevada City Police Department, social media can exacerbate people's negative perceptions about the rates of crime in their areas.
"If somebody has something stolen from their car, they'll post about it on Facebook, and now people are aware of these crimes," he said. "From a law enforcement standpoint, we've always known these things were happening. But now the public is hearing about it more often. The perception is that they must be hearing about it because it's happening so much more, but the numbers don't show that. And police departments' case loads don't show that."
In Nevada City, he said, crime has been stagnant in recent years.
"When you're looking at crime across the board, it remains fairly consistent throughout the years, with the exception of a couple more or a couple less," Ellis said.
Vehicle thefts have been a problem in all Nevada County jurisdictions, he said, including Nevada City.
"Across the board, I think all agencies have had a spike in vehicle theft this year," he said. "They are getting more and more common. That is the most significant increase we've seen."
The majority of vehicle thefts occur when car owners leave their vehicles unlocked with the keys inside, he said.
"Just locking your car could prevent theft of the vehicle. … Don't give people who want to take advantage of others and their property the opportunity to do that," he said.
The ebb and flow of crime statistics haven't changed Sheriff Keith Royal's view of Nevada County.
Examining five years of stats last July, Royal called this area a safe community. The numbers for 2017 provide the same picture for him.
"We have one of the lowest crime rates in the state," Royal said.
The crime statistics for the unincorporated county fluctuate each year. For example, the county had three homicides in 2014, zero in 2015 and six in 2016. Three occurred in 2017.
Royal called any decrease in homicides a positive development. However, he added that homicides typically are committed by someone the victim knows and done in the heat of passion. That makes it a difficult crime to control.
"That number fluctuates every year," he said. "I think what you have to think about is the big picture."
Crime tends to focus on more urban areas, because of the concentration of people. Additionally, rural areas like unincorporated Nevada County require transportation. That's one reason Royal said the number of property crimes tends to stay lower in the county.
Last summer a handful of local Facebook pages showed people accusing the area's homeless population of committing crimes. The sheriff last year said he couldn't attribute specific crimes to the homeless.
There were 398 larceny reports in 2016. Reports show 308 occurred last year.
"Is Nevada County a safe county?" Royal asked. "I think it's one of the safest places to live. Compare us to Los Angeles. Compare us to Sacramento."