Crime in San Diego increased 5.4% during the first half of the year, a surge caused in part by illegal aliens who commute from the border on the trolley and buses to rob houses in area neighborhoods, Police Chief Bill Kolender said Wednesday.
The increase in crime is San Diego's first in five years, and it reflects similar jumps in in all major American cities, Kolender told a San Diego City Council committee. "It's a little too early to say whether this is a trend," he cautioned.
Except for incidents of rape--which decreased nearly 8%--the rate of all crimes against people and property increased. Leading the statistics was homicide, with the number of cases rising 20% over the first six months of 1984.
Kolender blamed the rising crime rate on drugs and illegal aliens. The chief described to the council how illegal aliens are burglarizing homes in South Bay and along the coast.
"Aliens take the trolley to the 12th and C Street area and then fan out by walking or by taking buses northward," Kolender said. "Much property is brought back to the 12th and C Street area, where it is pawned."
Especially hard hit is the South Bay area, where illegal aliens are suspects in 41 robberies, six murders and two rapes between January and June. In other areas of the city, police have arrested 113 aliens in connection with 127 cases, mostly burglaries.
Police have experienced difficulties obtaining accurate criminal histories and warrants for the aliens, he added.
The chief told the council that he and other members of the San Diego police have met with Mexican law enforcement and judicial officials to design ways to stem the problem. But he warned there is little a local government can do.
"There's a lot that can be done, but it's got to start with a national policy through our Congress, which has not been willing to do this," he said.
San Diego Trolley officials say they can only check to see if a passenger is holding a valid pass. Periodically, agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service comb stations and board trains to find aliens, they say.
"I don't want to get into a battle with anyone, but it would seem highly unlikely in my opinion that a person would take a train and do these things," said Langley Powell, the trolley's managing director. "I mean, it would be obvious. They obviously would be caught.
"We make 18 stops, from end to end," he said. "If a person committed a crime and they were that ill-advised to use public transportation to commit crimes, we would catch every criminal in the country, don't you think?"
But police say they have discovered a new breed of commuter criminal.
"These are people who are professional burglars who live in Mexico and make their living robbing homes in the United States," said Assistant Chief Bob Burgreen.
The aliens, he said, ride the trolley and then take buses to Point Loma, La Jolla and San Carlos. After robbing a house of small valuables and cash, they carry items in duffel bags onto a bus, ride back to 12th Avenue and C Street, fence the property and "ride the trolley to the border and go home."
Since commuter criminals rarely walk onto a bus or trolley with a stolen television set or stereo, they are difficult to detect, said Burgreen.
"We cannot and will not walk up to people who are not openly violating the law and say, 'Are you an alien?' We have to see them doing something illegal or suspect them of criminal activity," he said.
Kolender also blamed drugs for San Diego's increase in crime. He told council members his department would continue its undercover operations in local high schools to arrest student drug dealers. Nearly 50% of the students approve of the sting operations, and police have noticed a decrease in drug trafficking arrests since going undercover, he said.
"The paranoia that has been caused by the concern a police officer may be on campus is a very positive thing," he said.
Despite the increase of crime, San Diego is still a relatively safe city, Kolender emphasized. FBI statistics for 1984, which were just released, show that out of the 20 cities with populations of 500,000 or more, San Diego ranks as the fourth-safest city with 59.3 crimes per 1,000 people. The only cities that fared better were San Jose, Honolulu and Philadelphia, according to the statistics.
The worst city was Detroit, with a crime rate of 137.3 per 1,000 people. Dallas, comparable in size with San Diego, was next, with a rate of 113.6.
On another subject, Kolender told the council committee that his department has received 239 new bullet-proof vests for police officers since June 1, after the shooting death of Officer Thomas Riggs caused an outcry over the safety of police officers. Another 300 are on order.
The vests cost about $230 apiece. So far, officers are pleased with the new models, because they are lighter and offer greater protection than the current model supplied by the department, the chief said.