Crime drops 12% in Costa Mesa

Crime in Costa Mesa dropped by more than 12% in 2013 with steep declines in thefts and burglaries leading the way, according to statistics provided by the Costa Mesa Police Department this week.

However, moderate increases in rapes and robberies were recorded.

Overall violent crime remained relatively flat compared with 2012, but property crimes as a whole dropped 13% with declines in every category.

Burglaries dropped by almost 25% — to 512 in 2013 compared with 668 in 2012.

Thefts and stolen vehicles followed suit with 10% and 18% reductions, respectively. Thefts dipped from 3,054 to 2,756. Stolen vehicles dropped from 362 to 296.

Arsons fell from 25 to 13.

The declines are a reversal from 2012, when property crimes spiked 15% in Costa Mesa.

At the time, the department suspected the cause was "realignment," a California program that shifts lower-level offenders from state prisons to county jails or other local supervision in an effort to ease overcrowding.

But officials acknowledged then — as they do now — that it's too early to tell how the program affects crime rates.

"We do believe there's long-term consequences related to realignment," Costa Mesa Police Chief Tom Gazsi said. "The full impacts, both good and bad, are not fully known."

During 2013, Gazsi's department performed sweeps throughout the city to check on prisoners who'd been let out under realignment's Post-Release Community Supervision program.

In June, CMPD and Orange County probation officers arrested seven probationers for violating the terms of their release or for other crimes. In September, officers arrested nine more.

"The limited realignment operations we have the opportunity to do certainly has some impact on those who would participate in criminal activities," Gazsi said. "More importantly, it provides a deterrent."

Costa Mesa's violent crime rate remained relatively unchanged compared with 2012, which saw a 9.9% spike.

In 2013, the city recorded five fewer violent crimes — 251 compared with 256 in 2012, according to CMPD's preliminary statistics.

Despite the overall reduction, rapes and robberies increased.

Forty-five rapes were reported to the CMPD in 2013 compared with 32 in 2012, and there were 94 robberies, eleven more than the year before.

But an 18% drop in aggravated assaults — from 136 to 111 — helped balance out those increases.

CMPD recorded only one homicide in 2013, down from five the previous year.

On Tuesday, the Costa Mesa City Council will consider authorizing the CMPD to hire four additional police officers with the intent of assigning them to monitor convicts who have been released under realignment.

If approved, the CMPD would be allowed to employ 136 sworn police officers.

The department hasn't yet reached its current cap of 132.

Officials have been searching for qualified candidates after recruitment was delayed in 2012 while council members pushed for a second-tier pension plan for new hires.

Gazsi said filling those slots could help Costa Mesa keep crime headed down.

"An increased presence of police officers on the street with sufficient time to proactively engage criminal activity unquestionably reduces crime," he said.

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