Property crime up, violence down in H.B.

Violent crimes decreased in Huntington Beach in 2012, but property and overall offenses have increased, according to statistics provided by Huntington Beach Police and the FBI.

The number of property crimes — burglaries, larceny, vehicle thefts and arson — rose from 4,610 in 2011 to 6,153.

This increase of offenses can be traced to the police department's shrinking staff, according to Capt. Dave Bunetta.

"During the past five years, the police department's staffing levels have steadily declined due in part to budgeting constraints," he said in an email.

Currently, Huntington Beach has 206 sworn officers, the same number the city had during the mid-1970s, Bunetta said.

Because of short-staffing, officers had to be reassigned to different beats — traffic, gangs and investigations, to name a few. This made maintaining a consistent level of protection more difficult for the department, he added.

Larceny — which includes bicycle thefts, vehicle part thefts, shoplifting and stealing without using force — accounted for the majority of the increase in property crimes.

There were 4,996 reports of larceny in 2012, an increase of 1,451 compared to the previous year.

Bunetta said this is due to the allocation of officers to different crime units.

"The majority of staffing reductions in detectives have been in the property crimes unit, and unfortunately that has been where the majority of crime has been increasing," Bunetta said.

Besides larceny, there have been increases in burglaries (44), vehicle thefts (68) and arson cases (19) in 2012.

Though the number of property crimes rose, violent crimes decreased in 2012.

The city reported 314 violent offenses — homicides, rape, robbery and aggravated assault — a reduction of 92 cases compared to the 406 in 2011.

"Our strategic plan is dealing with the staffing reductions included maintaining maximum staffing in the Crimes Against Persons unit," Bunetta said. "This enabled the department to actively investigate those incidents and pursue criminal filings."

Chief Ken Small has given the green light to fill 41 vacant sworn-officer positions, Bunetta said.

"We are conducting an aggressive recruitment process to fill these positions as soon as possible," Bunetta said.

Other efforts are being taken to reduce the number of crimes in the city.

The police department uses its Neighborhood Watch program, which includes monthly newsletters to the community.

Social media outlets Facebook and Twitter are also being used to inform residents of current crime trends, Bunetta said.

Twitter: @acocarpio

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