Huntington Beach records 28% rise in violent crime in 2017; overall crime down slightly

Violent crimes in Huntington Beach rose 28% in 2017 compared with the year before, though overall crime showed a slight decrease, according to data presented to the City Council on Monday.

Property crimes were down 5%, and violent crime and property crime combined were down 2.6%.

Despite the increase in violent crimes, Police Chief Robert Handy and Robert Lehner — a retired police chief for Eugene, Ore., and Elk Grove, Calif., who analyzed Huntington Beach’s data as an independent consultant — said Huntington Beach is statistically very safe compared to other cities its size.

Handy added that police statistics are routinely examined internally at the department but hadn’t been talked about in a public setting in recent years. He said he wants to change that.

He urged the community to see the bigger picture, despite the increase in certain crimes.

“We’re consistently in the ‘much better than average’ category,” Handy said. “The crime goes up and it goes down from year to year.”

The city logged 461 violent crimes last year, 101 more than in 2016.

Of the 461, two were homicides, the same as in 2016. The department also reported 75 rapes, 289 aggravated assaults and 95 robberies.

Police recorded 34 street robberies, 27 of which involved a firearm.

Property crimes declined from 4,546 in 2016 to 4,317 in 2017.

Handy said the city had six fatal traffic incidents in 2017, the fewest the Police Department could find in its records. In 2016 there were 15 such incidents.

Councilman Billy O’Connell, a former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy, called Huntington Beach’s 28% increase in violent crime a “pretty significant number.”

However, he added, similar-size cities like Glendale have experienced similar trends.

Huntington Beach police Officer Miguel Prieto said his colleagues weren’t surprised by the statistics.

Officers have been involved in shootings (seven last year) and have been hurt, he said.

“We were out there handling those calls,” Prieto said. “We saw this increase that we’ve been talking about for quite some time.”

He also said officers feel the department is understaffed and that they’re having a hard time fulfilling the need for overtime work.

Council members Lyn Semeta and Erik Peterson said they appreciated seeing the statistics.

Semeta called Huntington Beach’s low crime rates over time “very encouraging.”

“This type of analysis is really good for us as decision-makers,” Peterson said.

Twitter: @BradleyZint