WHAT: Riverside County Sheriff’s meeting on local crime
WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday, March 24
WHERE: Idyllwild School Gymnasium
The recent escalation in criminal activity in the Idyllwild area, including an armed robbery and a growing number of felony property crimes, has prompted the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department to call a community meeting in Idyllwild. Captain Scot Collins, Hemet Station Commander and staff will meet with Hill community members at a town meeting at the Idyllwild School gymnasium at 2 p.m., Saturday, March 24.
Collins will discuss the spike in activity, current staffing at the station and how that affects response times, strategies the Sheriff’s Department can employ to address this uptick in crime, the role and use of the Mountain Community Patrol, and what community members can do to protect their homes and neighborhoods. This will be an important opportunity for anyone who is concerned about recent crime escalation in the Idyllwild area to hear from the commander charged with protection of Hill communities, to ask questions, and to learn what steps they can take to thwart criminal activity.
The escalation of crimes to property in Idyllwild, often targeting second homes with absent owners, isrecent and dramatic. Collins noted, however, that in raw numbers they are still relatively small compared with the volume of criminal activity in Anza and in the Hemet and San Jacinto areas. Based on his experience, Collins thinks this spike in criminal activity is very possibly local, given the limited ingress and egress to and from the community.
By way of understanding the increases, in all of 2011 there were 23 reported felony property crimes in Idyllwild, Pine Cove and Mountain Center. In January and February of this year, 13 property crimes already have been reported — more than half of what occurred in all of last year. Also, half of those 2011 reported crimes occurred in the last three months of the year.
County Sheriff Sniff comments on patrol decreases
Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff said in interview that reduced patrol staffing in the unincorporated is creating safety issues. As a result of these budget-directed changes, Sniff said his department is seeing crime surges in all unincorporated areas. He expressed concern that these patrol reductions place deputies in danger and do not provide the desirable levels of policing previously available for Hill communities.
The county’s budget troubles have reduced Sheriff’s staffing in the unincorporated areas from 1.2 deputies per 1,000 residents to .75 per 1,000 residents.
“This has got to be reversed,” Sniff said. “We have got to correct the staffing issues in the unincorporated areas.” Sniff said that the board of supervisor’s budget decisions leave him little room to cut expenses other than patrol staffing in the unincorporated areas.
“The jails keep expanding,” he said. “The only place I could cut was in the unincorporated. I fought that, but at the end of the day, I had no choice. The unincorporated community policing assets have all been stripped out. We’re now seeing strain marks throughout all the unincorporated. And this [budget prioritization] is clearly at the direction of the board of supervisors.”
He suggested if residents are upset with levels of community policing, they voice their concerns with the board of supervisors, since his department
can do little more that accede to the board’s budget directives. As to reduced staffing on the Hill, he said, “I had no other place to go [to make the budget reductions].”
The department’s staffing capabilities are less flexible than many other county governmental functions. It is easier to reduce staffing than to expand because of the need to assure deputies are adequately trained to perform law enforcement responsibilities. Sniff said even if the board of supervisors votes in July to increase patrol-staffing budgets, it will take 12 to 18 months before additional deputies will be able to be on patrols.
The Saturday, March 24, meeting is being held on a weekend so that part-timers can attend. A number of the recent burglaries involved homes owned by part-timers. The 2 p.m. meeting will be videotaped since business owners may not be able to attend or send a delegate. Bring your questions and suggestions, but if concerned
about what is occurring, this is the opportunity to become informed and advised by the law enforcement authority charged with local enforcement. Formation of Neighborhood or Community Watch networks will be discussed.