Crime spike in Idyllwild: Hemet Station has identified a ‘person of interest’

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Criminal activity — theft, burglaries and vandalism — has increased in Idyllwild over the last three weeks, although nothing in raw numbers that approaches off-the-Hill crime statistics. But for Idyllwild, the increase in criminal activity in a short time period is significant.

According to Sgt. Robert Duckett, investigator at Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Hemet Station, patterns of recent burglaries and vandalism are strikingly similar to previous incidents in 2012, 2013 and 2015. Even pictures of the perpetrators caught on video at the Shell Station look similar. “The same pattern, hoodies and mask are there,” said Duckett. “It even looks like the same people.”

Duckett said his department believes it has identified a person of interest and is proceeding with its investigation.

In the last three weeks, there has been a commercial burglary, burglaries of two vehicles, reported vandalism last Thursday of a vehicle parked at the Idyllwild Summer Concert, other vandalism in back of a commercial establishment on North Circle, one incident of grand theft (theft of goods valued over $950), one petty theft and one sexual assault in Idyllwild.

Duckett noted the crimes seem to be localized in Idyllwild, from a line extending from River Road to Apela Drive leading into the Idyllwild Arts campus.

Recent criminal incidents come at a time when RCSD staffing in the unincorporated areas is approaching a historical low of 0.75 deputies per 1,000 inhabitants. In 2008-09, the department had 1.2 deputies per 1,000.

Staffing cuts also have affected Riverside County Code Enforcement, the agency that monitors, among other responsibilities, medical marijuana clinics and licensing in the unincorporated areas.

Under current law, medical marijuana clinics are illegal in the unincorporated areas. But, according to Duckett, until the Board of Supervisors decides the county’s ultimate position on the clinics and marijuana cultivation (following statewide adoption of Proposition 64 legalizing recreational use of marijuana), prosecution and/or closure of the medical marijuana clinics will likely be held in abeyance.

Under county Ordinance 348.4435, effective in June 2015, “A medical marijuana dispensary is prohibited in all zone classifications and no permit of any type shall be issued therefore.”

Duckett noted that even if the clinics are currently established in the unincorporated areas at the present, it is illegal to transport the marijuana to get it to the dispensaries.

He said the Sheriff’s Department is currently eradicating large-scale marijuana cultivation in the Anza area with single busts resulting in seizure and destruction of $3 million of product. “It’s not just the growing [beyond authorized limits] that’s illegal, it’s the damage to the environment and the community,” said Duckett. “The growers are taking well water, reducing the water table and forcing land owners to drill new wells. Runoff from marijuana cultivation is polluting the groundwater. Growers are stealing electricity and they are intimidating neighbors with threats, disrupting the life of the community.”

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