Public safety is the No. 1 priority in Clovis, but as the city continues to grow, fighting crime is becoming a challenge for the Clovis Police Department’s bare bones 100-officer team.
At a recent city council meeting, Police Chief Matt Basgall presented a crime analysis report for 2017, which showed that overall violent crime in Clovis is down. At the same time, however, traffic incidents and cases of identity theft are increasing. While it appears some non-violent crimes are also down, Basgall warns that the statistics may be misleading as officers just simply haven’t had the time to pursue things like minor traffic violations and code violations.
According to the report, there were 49,572 public initiated calls for service in 2017, which is on par with statistics from 2016, but officer-initiated calls are down by 4,000, dropping from over 37,000 to around 33,000 calls for service.
“Officers just don’t have the time to do as much monitoring activity,” Basgall said, explaining the decrease.
With the city expanding and serving nearly 140,000 residents, not only have officers’ monitoring activities been reduced, but response times to outlying areas are becoming a concern.
Most calls for service, Basgall said, do occur within older areas of the city where response times have remained under the standard five minutes the department shoots for, but officers are unable to respond as quickly on the far edges of town. For now, thankfully, “Priority One” calls are seeing an average response time of 4.69 minutes, but Basgall said he is concerned about those times increasing as the city’s scope widens.
The number of traffic collisions is also increasing likely due to the growing population and number of vehicles on the road. Collisions were up by 49 percent in 2017.
“I think there are a lot of factors that go with that,” Basgall said. “There are more people living in the city and there is more with the growth, but the roadways are still the same and honestly we only have four traffic units in the city. So this next year we have to make a more concerted effort to put more traffic enforcement out there to try and get the accidents down.”
As for crimes, those up in 2017 include sexual assault (25.6 percent increase), counterfeiting/forgery (36.9 percent increase), runaways (7.1 percent increase), shoplifting (14.6 percent increase) and municipal violations (53 percent increase).
Of these, Basgall said counterfeiting and forgery are crimes he is seeing more of as crooks become more sophisticated.
“Identity theft is just off the charts,” Basgall said. “Our crooks are continuing to spend more time on identity theft, forgery and counterfeiting than they were in years past when car burglaries and those types of crimes were more of a way to generate revenue. [In these cases], when we typically find one [identity theft] victim, it leads to 30, 40 or 50 victims because most of these identity theft people are pretty prolific in what they do.”
Meanwhile, crimes that experienced a decrease in 2017 were drug/narcotic violations (14 percent decrease), stolen property violations (15.9 percent decrease), weapons violations (16.4 percent decrease), theft from motor vehicles (19.2 percent decrease) and grand theft auto (1.75 decrease).
While councilmembers are pleased with the job the department is doing, like Basgall they too expressed concerns about the 100-officer department’s ability to continue serving the community as it swells over 140,000 people.
“We probably can’t keep doing what we’re doing and keep these crime numbers low,” Lynne Ashbeck said. “I think it is unrealistic to think that with only 100 officers and 130-140,000 people, it is just not going to happen. I liken it to an emergency room, where people just keep coming and coming and people keep taking care of them because that is just what they do, but at some point it is an unsustainable business model. So we need to collectively have that conversation as a community that we can’t have it both ways. We can’t have 140,000 people, small houses on alleys and neighborhoods out here and there with only 100 officers.”
City Manager Luke Serpa said the city is currently evaluating the recent survey given to citizens and is looking to prioritize items like public safety in an upcoming budget, which will be presented over the next couple of months.
“We are wrapping up our survey on budget priorities and we’ve had over 1,300 people respond, so it was a huge outreach. It was very successful and that will be our first check to show us, OK what are the priorities? Then, we will look at those priorities and I suspect and I would bet my paycheck that the results will say public safety is the No. 1 priority,” Serpa said.
Meanwhile, Basgall said Clovis PD is going to continue doing what it does best—catching the bad guys.
“When you say morale, morale is not bad,” Basgall said. “It is good in the aspect that they like doing their job, they love catching crooks and they like getting out there and being able to investigate crimes themselves. [However], there is that sense of being tired and what I worry about as we continue down this path is low staffing numbers tend to lead to more injuries … Where we’ve been really positive in the past, I worry about that becoming more of an issue as we move forward.”
The Clovis Police Department’s full end of the year 2017 report is available for members of the public to view and download at www.ci.clovis.ca.us/Departments-Services/Police-Department