Some information – such as how to join a Neighborhood Watch group – was well-received. Information such as the rising crime numbers and the early release of non-violent criminals, however, met with a more anxious response.
Antioch Police Chief Allan Cantando gave an update on crime during January and February. Those statistics represented a considerable rise compared to the first two months of 2011. Property crimes nearly doubled – from 473 in early 2011 to 868 in that time period this year.
Cantando noted that the numbers might reflect more crimes being reported – as opposed to committed – thanks to the department’s online reporting system.
The violent crime category also showed a slight uptick. Cantando’s presentation noted that 50 more aggravated assaults were committed during the first two months of 2012 compared to that time period of last year. Officers’ response time has increased from eight minutes in 2010 to 10:04 so far in 2012 as a result of fewer boots on the ground.
“I will assure you that the officers are doing the best they can to arrive at these scenes,” Cantando said, “because they realize that if we get there as quickly as possible, we have a better chance of apprehending the suspect.”
Antioch employs 48 patrol officers for its population of more than 100,000, though the department has been approved to hire four more cops, a process that could take a few weeks.
Cantando also delivered the news that crime might increase in the future. The California legislature has approved a bill that releases non-violent criminals from prison earlier than their scheduled time. According to Cantando, 49 of these parolees live in Antioch, the second-highest total in the county (Richmond has 50). California’s police chiefs are working with state legislators to find revenues to mitigate the effects of the new law. If Antioch can get cash from Sacramento, said Cantando, it will go toward hiring more officers.
Among the measures the Antioch PD is taking to fight crime are studying what other cities in the Bay Area are doing, and looking into the installation of security cameras. Antioch will also likely release a Most Wanted list on its website, so residents can spot criminals hiding out from cops. The county sheriff’s office is also cracking down on kids who are out and about during school hours, which should help.
Residents at the town hall meeting showed a willingness to help Antioch’s police department. Some said they’d write letters to county and state offices in support of more funding. Many expressed interest in becoming part of the city’s growing Neighborhood Watch program.
Hans Ho, the Antioch Crime Prevention Commissioner who heads up Neighborhood Watch, reached out to those who live in Antioch, asking them to at least get to know their neighbors. Ho was pleased to announce that more residents have been doing so. In 2010, 48 Neighborhood Watch meetings were held in Antioch. That figure rose to 92 in 2011. According to Ho, the program is on pace for more than 200 meetings this year.
“No matter how many police officers we hire, there are never enough policemen to have one on every corner,” Ho said. “So we, the law-abiding citizens, need to be the eyes and the ears.”
Residents also received information about code enforcement and Section 8 housing vouchers. Ryan Graham, Antioch’s Deputy Director of Community Development, noted that the city has chosen its one approved code enforcement officer, who should be able to start in about three weeks. The city has been without any kind of code enforcement, except in extremely dangerous cases, since 2009.
Bruce Smargiasso, who manages Section 8 for the Contra Costa Housing Authority, answered several questions and criticisms regarding the program. Many residents feel that Section 8, which offers housing vouchers to low-income residents, has contributed to the city’s crime problem.
Smargiasso noted that renters are free to move wherever they choose, but the cheap cost of living in Antioch has made it a more attractive place. He claimed that many of those who use the vouchers are seniors and disabled people. He urged Antioch residents to put more heat on landlords who rent to problem tenants. Mayor Jim Davis, who organized the town hall meeting, said residents should share their concerns with state representatives.
Overall, many felt the meeting was productive. Davis said he’d like to hold another such meeting in the next couple of months.
“Everyone has something they can contribute,” Antioch resident Yvette Wilson said. “It showed me that it’s not so much a want, but a must, to be a viable part of the community. I’m excited. I’m motivated.”