Chief: Newport can't get lax about safety

Members of the local business community who turned out for the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce's monthly government affairs breakfast unwittingly took part in a little experiment.

Midway through his talk Thursday about public safety in the city, Newport Police Chief Jay Johnson got the results on a pale yellow sticky note: Of 60 cars in the parking lot, 36 had valuables — essentially crime bait, he said — sitting in plain view.

Among those items were 12 purses, six briefcases, one wallet, two laptops and five iPads.

"We are a target-rich environment," Johnson told the group, gathered in the central library's Friends Room, where they enjoyed complimentary eggs Benedict from the Back Bay Bistro's Kurt Schaeffer.

So while Newport is by most measures one of the safest cities in the country, Johnson said, residents can prevent much of the crime that does occur simply by locking car doors and keeping valuables hidden.

"It's an easy fix because we can reduce crime tremendously," he said.

Theft, he added, is "our No. 1 crime."

Johnson also discussed the effect of California's prison realignment, which transferred responsibility for many in the corrections system from the state down to the county level. As a result, some prisoners have been released early.

Johnson said that while relatively few of those prisoners have made their way to homes in Newport Beach, upticks in crime in surrounding areas could bleed into the city.

Most of the people arrested in Newport don't live within its limits, he said.

"Criminals don't know boundaries," Johnson said.

Nevertheless, as surrounding cities such as Costa Mesa and Huntington Beach have seen increases in property crime after realignment — a comparison was done of the 17 months before realignment with the same length of time after realignment went into effect — Newport saw a small decrease, 1.3%.

Using the same comparative time frames, meanwhile, Costa Mesa saw a 20.4% increase in property crime and Huntington saw a 16.1% increase after realignment.

Johnson said that while the economy and budget cuts have affected Newport, he said the city remains a safe place in large part because its leaders have made public safety a priority.

"I've worked in a lot of cities," he said. "They [the City Council members] get safety. It's not cheap."

Finally, Johnson encouraged residents to sign up for its Nixle online community notification service at

Twitter: @jillcowan

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