Police ask for support in face of rising crime

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

“Our overall goal is to maintain the quality of life and safety of those living in and visiting the city of Ridgecrest,” said Ridgecrest Police Chief Ron Strand.

But in light of a 10-percent increase in the incidence of serious crime — although below the countywide trend that spikes as high as 58 percent in some communities — Strand is asking for the continued support of the Police Department, which accounts for more than half the city’s general fund revenues.

Strand said that the driving force between the rise in crime is the continued effects of the state’s decision to close its prisons and house inmates in the county jail system. That squeezed county prisoners out onto the streets by the thousands in October 2011. Since then the Department of Justice has been dealing with a revolving-door system of time served, a backlog of cases to prosecute and inadequate officers on the street to deal with the influx of criminals on the streets.

“What this did for us is it changed the way we handle criminals,” said Strand. “It used to be that if we picked up someone for commercial burglary, they went to jail. Now that the county jail is full, there is no place to incarcerate them.”

Strand and his department are employing a variety of tools to mitigate the effects, including increasing its presence in the schools and among at-risk youth and partnerships with community organizations.

He cited Teen Court as one example of a successful deterrent for youth crime — a 58-percent drop in juvenile arrests since 2009. He added that community volunteers donated more than 18,000 man hours last year, which translated to a $396,000 value to the city.

The department is also leveraging tools like social media to find suspects, report crime and get the word out for missing children.

Because the department absorbs most of the city’s general-fund resources, PD is also slated for the biggest cut in order to reduce the city’s $1.3-million deficit. Strand noted that he needs a minimum of 31 officers to maintain the current level of service, though 33 would allow him more efficient scheduling.

During the discussion officials noted that too much of a reduction on the police force would likely result in increased overtime pay — which may end up costing the city more in the long run.

“Out of everything we do in the city, public safety is Priority No. 1,” said Councilman Jim Sanders. “If you have criminals running amok and anarchy, nothing else we do matters.”

Story First Published: 2013-05-01