CrimeStat meeting provides inside look at Newport Beach Police Department

Sgt. Dave Miner told his colleagues at the Newport Beach Police Department on Thursday that he was dealing with a stubborn burglar.

The 10 residential break-ins throughout Newport Coast, Spyglass Hill and Corona del Mar in December were double the number of similar crimes the southern quadrant of the city experienced in the same period a year prior.

That afternoon, the sergeant — who is responsible for the safety of what is called Area 4 — stood in front of the police's chief, executive staff, top officers and detectives while he detailed the crimes.

Newport Beach is broken up into four patrol areas, and every second Thursday of the month, the city's top cops hold a CrimeStat meeting where each area's commanding officer is held accountable for the crime in his zone.

"If you like murder mysteries, stories about rape and mayhem and violence, I'm not going to dazzle you," Miner said, clicking the projector forward to a chart categorizing all the crimes in his zone. "As you can see, in 2013, December did not have a violent crime."

In a city with few violent crimes already — just 77 in 2013 — Area 4 is its calmest. In addition to the zero violent crimes, there were only 27 property crimes for the month.

But dealing with such small numbers means one string of violations — maybe even a single burglar — can bust someone's statistics and garner attention from a roomful of Newport's top brass.

"We're having a hard time getting our hands around this problem," Miner said.

Eight of the burglaries were especially puzzling. They were all at private homes, mostly with forced entry through the back side of the houses.

The confounding part, Miner explained, is they're spread out throughout the entire area and took place at all hours of the day and night on any day of the week. With no consistent pattern, someone would break in and grab cash or jewelry before fleeing.

So far, Minor said the only lead is a suspect reported at two of the crimes: a white man driving a dark, late-model Chevy SUV.

Sitting two chairs to the left of Chief Jay Johnson, crime analyst Caroline Staub pointed out another similarity.

"Almost none of them have rear neighbors," she said.

Nearly all the victims have a greenbelt, terraced garden or some other open space behind their homes.

"All right," Johnson said as he leaned forward. "And all the patrol officers know this, right?"

They do, Miner replied.

While detectives wait for lab results from crime-scene investigations, Miner's officers will keep asking about the burglaries and warning residents with door-hangers and online alerts.

"We'll keep working to identify trends," he said. "Work with detectives, increase visibility."

Each month at CrimeStat, a crew of more than a dozen Newport police employees sets goals and hatches plans to respond to trends by dissecting the numbers each area commander presents.

At their first meeting of 2014, Johnson invited a few reporters and officials for a glimpse of the normally private conference.

"We have never opened this up to the public," Johnson said by way of introduction. "There are things that are normally discussed in these meetings that are not for the public."

Thursday, attendees refrained from detailing sensitive investigations but otherwise tried to keep the meeting as normal as possible.

"We're going to slice and dice numbers every which way," Johnson said.

Flanked by his executive officer and crime analysts, Johnson sat at the bottom of a U-shaped table. To his right, a line of detectives held notes ready to explain leads on cases or detail arrests. To his left sat the lieutenants and sergeants who each took a turn at the podium where they detailed crime in their sector and explained what they were going to do about it.

In Area 1, covering the Balboa Peninsula, Lt. Evan Sailor reported a spike of five aggravated assaults in December. Four of them were connected to the bars clustered in his purview.

But Sailor also touted a drop in bicycle thefts. He credited work throughout the year from officers who staked out bus stops and the Santa Ana River Trail when they realized thieves would ride the bus into Newport Beach with bolt cutters and then ride back inland on their stolen property.

Patrolmen's work tamped down the number of bike thefts on the Peninsula to 70 in 2013 compared to 115 the previous year, Sailor said.

In Area 2, which covers the sector above the Peninsula and north of the Santa Ana River, mail thefts were the scourge of December, Lt. Damon Psaros reported.

After an email blast warning residents that their packages were being lifted from the front porches, some investigative work led to an arrest. Detectives tailed a suspect who was following a delivery truck and caught him grabbing a package just after it was dropped off, Psaros said.

In Area 3, stretching inland from Balboa Island and the shoreline at Corona del Mar, paddleboard thefts plagued the community through the last two months, Sgt. Rachel Johnson reported.

Someone would scoop up the unwatched boards or cut the flimsy locks people had been using to secure them, mostly on Balboa Island, Johnson said.

After 12 such thefts in November and five in December, detectives were able to track down the thief through Craigslist, where they posed as a paddleboard buyer and arrested the subject when they met.

In Newport, police work can come down to one or two lawbreakers, Deputy Chief David McGill said as the sergeants and lieutenants laid out their monthly victories and defeats.

"The crime rate is so low that just one person just kills us [when it comes to statistics]," he explained.

"The paddleboard caper, the mail guy that was going around — one person or a couple of people that wreck havoc [or] have a mission about going around and stealing stuff can just destroy an area," he said. "It's really different here in Newport Beach."

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