The need for more cops became glaringly clear to the Antioch City Council Tuesday night following Antioch Police Chief Allan Cantando’s presentation on the state of the department and crime statistics in the city.
Violent crime cases increased 30 percent in 2012, from 818 in 2011 to 1068 in 2012, while total property crimes jumped 23 percent (by 884 cases) for a total of 4,757 last year. Arson cases were the only type to decline, dropping by five in 2012 to 51.
“To look at the data you provided is scary,” said City Councilman Tony Tiscareno. “We need to do something about this.”
Meanwhile, staffing levels – due to budget cuts – continue to plague the department, which stands currently at 1995 levels.
Although the department is authorized to employ 122 sworn positions, it’s working with a staff of 89 – one more than the department employed in 1995 when Antioch’s population was 29,000 less, requiring 34,000 fewer responses to calls for service annually.
“I don’t think people realize how much we have lost,” said City Councilmember Mary Rocha, who has served in the city’s government for more than 30 years.
In comparison, the cities of Concord, Fairfield and Richmond, all similar in size to Antioch, staff 151, 119, and 185 officers, respectively.
The effects of the staffing shortage were felt far and wide in 2012. The department made 652 fewer arrests last year than in 2011, a decrease of 13 percent, and response times increased across the board.
In 2012, it took officers an average of 11 minutes, four seconds from the time a high-priority call was received to the time they arrived, an increase of two minutes from 2011 and three minutes from 2010. The time it took an officer to arrive to a call once it was dispatched also increased by 33 seconds to five minutes, 40 seconds in 2012.
“Eleven minutes isn’t long if you’re taking a coffee break, but if there’s a fight or something, you’re going to want officers there right away,” Cantando said.
All the while, the number of level-one calls, which the department classifies as the highest priority, increased by 11 percent to 8,805 last year compared to 7,906 the year before. The total number of calls, however, increased only 0.8 percent.
“What I’m hearing,” said Cantando, “is that people are calling but not getting the assistance they need.”
In a sign of how difficult it is to attract officers to the force, Cantando revealed that the department examined an average of 92 lateral/academy graduate applicants and 464 trainee applicants for every one hired in each category in 2012. In total, the department hired two lateral officers, two academy graduates and one trainee last year.
“This shows the public just how many people have to go through the process to get someone at the other end,” Cantando said.
The general consensus among the council and members of the public in attendance Tuesday was that the council and residents need to work together to bring officers to the force. “It’s time to start thinking outside the box,” said resident Mary Smith.
In response to the rising crime rate, Cantando unveiled separate staffing wish lists if the department were to increase sworn staff levels to the status-quo number of 123 or 144 – the number recommended by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.
Under both plans, Cantando intends to bring back the school resource program and traffic division, and dedicate sworn staff to handle problem solving and crime prevention in the community, plus homicide investigations, professional standards and other administrative duties.
The question left unanswered, however, was how the city would pay to beef up the force. It would cost $6.8 million to bring it back up to 144 sworn officers, and $3.6 million to bring it back to the status quo of 123.
“None of this is really new,” said City Councilman Gary Agopian. “This is what keeps us up at night.”
A community forum to discuss crime in the community is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 28 at 6 p.m. in Beede Auditorium at Antioch High School.