About 150 Hill residents attended a community meeting about a significant recent rise in local property crimes. Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Hemet Station Commander Captain Scot Collins confirmed and discussed the marked increase in property crimes in the Idyllwild, Pine Cove and Mountain Center area that began in the last half of 2011 and continued through early March 2012.
Collins brought his second in command, Lieutenant Dan Agnoletto, Special Investigations Supervisor Sgt. Wallace Clear and Administrative Assistant James Wilson. Residents said they attended in response to the recent area crime spike involving burglaries, larcenies and felony vandalism, including an armed robbery in Idyllwild on Feb. 26.
Collins began his presentation acknowledging that the crime spike is both real and dramatic. He pointed out that although there is a marked increase in criminal activity, the raw numbers are relatively small compared to other county areas and communities.
He noted “Part One” crimes, so classified by the Federal Bureau of Investigations as leading indicators of crime increases in any area, numbered 57 in 2010 in the greater Idyllwild area; 67 in 2011; but were already at 24 in 2012 compared to only 7 in the same time period in 2011. Those increases were primarily in burglary (from 3 to 8) and larceny (from 4 to 14). Pine Cove actually saw a general decrease in January to March 2012 crimes compared to 2011; burglary rose from 2 to 3 but larceny dropped from 6 to none.
The current theory is much of this surge is attributable to locals. Sgt. Clear said, “Most persons of interest [in this recent crime spree] spent significant time here or were raised here from birth.”
The good news, Collins noted, is that the most violent crimes, murder and rape, are virtually nonexistent in the Idyllwild area statistics, as is arson. Assaults in Idyllwild dropped from 16 in 2010 to 7 in 2011, and in Pine Cove, rose from 1 to 4.
Total calls for service in 2010 and 2011 were not dramatically different in either Idyllwild or Pine Cove, according to Collins, but that response times for all call priorities had increased, about 10 to 12 percent over previous times. For example,
for Priority One, crimes in progress, average time from when dispatch received the call was 17.7 minutes in 2010 and increased to 21.9 minutes in 2011; in Pine Cove, from 20.6 minutes in 2010 to 33.2 minutes in 2012.
Collins was candid about the reason. The number of deputies in the unincorporated areas has decreased from previous highs of 1.5 to 1,000 to .75 at this time. Community policing and two cars on the Hill at all times are policies no longer in force. Collins showed a bar graph that indicated “Part One” crimes seem to be declining from Jan. 31 through March 11.
He and staff then provided strategies that local residents, both full and part time, could adopt to “harden” their homes and make them less appealing as targets. Sgt. Clear spoke about how the station conducts investigations and responds to calls, and Wilson spoke about how to form Neighborhood and Community Watch groups (see sidebars). Collins saluted the Mountain Community Patrol and thanked them for having, not just one of their members present, but the entire group, dressed in uniform.
Questions from the audience covered a wide range from security lights to carrying handguns. Regarding security lights, Collins answered that as long as they are pointed down to illuminate points of entry, they should satisfy the county’s recently enacted light pollution ordinance.
When asked about licenses for carrying a concealed weapon, Collins indicated that there must be a compelling need demonstrated before any license could be issued, along with background checks. Collins said that open carry laws had changed in January 2012. Now unless the gun is unloaded, it is illegal.
Third District Supervisor Jeff Stone and several county law and fire enforcement personnel will be in Idyllwild Monday, April 9 at 6:30 p.m. at Idyllwild School Gymnasium for another town meeting about public safety, staffing in the unincorporated areas and budget exigencies that have forced reductions.
Administrative Sgt. James Wilson spoke about citizen crime reporting and prevention tips:
- Form a neighborhood watch group ([email protected] or (951) 791-3409). “For weekenders, it’s important to get one going,” said Wilson. “It’s important to get to know your neighbors. Have one person be a block captain who gathers phone numbers, addresses, emails, and any other contact information. Hold an organizational meeting of as many neighbors as possible and schedule periodic meetings. I will try to come to the first meeting to help in getting it started. You [the neighbors] are the eyes and ears of the community. You see the power in that?”
- If interested in joining Mountain Community Patrol, call Sgt. Wilson. “There is a background process,” he said. “We’re very interested about it and who we allow as volunteers to have unfettered access to our station.”
- Trim shrubs, collect any flyers or delivered newspapers that might have been left;
- Install security lights and alarm systems. “It’s particularly important for part-time residents to adopt these measures,” said Wilson. Install signs that say “protected by monitored alarm and armed response;”
- Write California driver’s license number on valuable items;
- Place family heirlooms in a secure and hidden location;
- Use a video recorder to create a record of all valuable items in the home, both for future identification purposes and for insurance reasons.
- Know what numbers to call for reporting a crime – “911” from a landline will connect to sheriff’s dispatch. For now, from a cell phone, it will connect to California Highway Patrol. “Input into your cell phone, for speed-dialing, (951) 776-1099 [the non-emergency RCSD crime reporting number] to be connected to sheriff dispatch,” said Wilson;
- Know addresses, cross streets, home colors when calling in a crime location.
- Know physical description when calling in a suspect — height, approximate weight, race, clothes (coat, hat, glasses) and observable distinguishing marks. Also helpful to know how suspect is leaving or had left — description of vehicle (make, model, color, 2-door, 4-door, license plate) motorcycle, or other transportation, or if on foot, and direction suspect went when exiting.