Chief gives brief on crime trends

Chief gives brief on crime trendsBy BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

Police Chief Jed McLaughlin gave an update on crime trends during last week’s budget workshop meeting. As he addressed challenges the department is facing, many were alarmed to see a 72-percent increase in reported sexual assaults since the previous year.

McLaughlin said that he’s spoken to Women’s Center High Desert representative about the increase and believes it’s in part caused by broader services offered to rape victims.

“They feel the victims are more apt to come forward now instead of just hiding it,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Lindsey Stephens asked if the “#MeToo” movement, which took social media by storm in 2016 by encouraging sexual assault victims to come forward, had an impact on increased reporting.

“That could be part of it as well,” said McLaughlin. “It’s a hard one to evaluate because it is a very sensitive and harsh crime.”

McLaughlin added that the number reflected only reported rapes and didn’t differentiate between verified rapes or unfounded ones.

“If somebody comes in saying they were sexually assaulted, then we’re required to offer those services and take the report as they told us and call a Sexual Assault Response Team representative and do the investigation,” he said.

Vice Mayor Wallace Martin asked if the department categorizes sexual assaults by whether the perpetrators were known or unknown to the victims, if they were local or if it was date rape or other categories. He also asked if there is a way to reflect which rapes were unfounded to “ease the sting” of the high statistic.

“You don’t want to revictimize the true victims,” said McLaughlin. “That’s the very important thing to remember about sexual assaults. It’s a very horrible crime … you don’t want to downplay what happened to the actual victims of those crimes.”

“I beg to differ there because that argument can work exactly the other way,” said Martin, who said he would like to see a mitigated number that showed only confirmed sexual assaults.

He added that most of the rapes reported locally are incidents of “people meeting people” at various establishments and reporting the assault the next morning. He did not go into more detail, but he included that Ridgecrest was not having problems with date rape drugs.

The increase was only part of a growing crime trend, one McLaughlin attributes to legislation like Propositions 47 (2014) and 57 (2016) and Assembly Bill 109 (2011), both designed to reduce prison populations. Despite an anticipated $2.4 million in Measure V funding in the next fiscal year, McLaughlin said his department is having a tough time keeping up with the challenges.

“Some of the bills basically decriminalized a lot of crimes or reclassified them from felonies to misdemeanors. All of this was done to reduce prison populations so that California could fit under the mandated numbers as well as budget reasons.”

McLaughlin reported that since 2014, Ridgecrest’s lowest crime year in decades, crimes are up across the board with a 17-percent increase in Part 1 violent crimes.

He said that prior to some of the recent legislation, offenders were sent to jail where they were offered rehabilitation services, drug counseling, education and services to find jobs.

“Well, those are gone because they’re not going to jail,” he said. “For instance – cocaine, heroin, meth, any drug really – if we come into contact with someone that’s got some of that drug on them, as long as it’s not enough to charge them with sales, we take their drugs, book it into evidence, write them a ticket and send them on their way. Now you have people on the street all the time with no help and very limited resources.”

Compounding the issue is the department’s struggle to retain officers. McLaughlin reported that he has lost officers to Fresno PD, Inyo County, Delano PD, Shafter PD, Palm Springs PD, Atascadero PD and China Lake.

According to McLaughlin, all of these jurisdictions offer increases in salary while many of them also provide signing bonuses and increased benefits.

He added that California City, El Segundo and many other cities across the state are offering very attractive law- enforcement opportunities.

“What I’m showing you is, we’re losing them to these places,” said McLaughlin.

“And they’re not all moving there,” said Stephens. “They go work their shift and come back here.”

“What a lot of them are doing, they’re kind of taking the ‘fire department’ model,” said McLaughlin. “A lot of firemen work in L.A., but they live in Vegas. They rent an apartment there so on your shift that’s where you sleep and when you’re done with your shift, you go home.”

He said it’s not uncommon for officers to pool money for an apartment or house where they work so they can afford to have a home somewhere else.

Overall, the department spends the majority of its $7.6-million budget on salaries ($6.5 million) for its 51 employees, which includes 32 sworn officers and 19 professional staff members, not including the department’s 100 plus volunteers.

Measure V pays the salaries of 18 of those employees, including 13 sworn officers.

The rest of the police budget is for materials and supplies ($635K), patrol vehicles and K-9 units ($300,500 plus Proposition 172 funding and impact fees) and $155K for an Internal Services Fund.

According to McLaughlin, volunteers provide more than 16,000 hours of service throughout the year, saving the department more then $400,000 annually.

Pictured: Ridgecrest Police Chief Jed McLaughlin — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2019-06-07