Commentary: Statistics tell the truth about Costa Mesa crime rate

There's been a lot in the news lately about how morale problems at the Costa Mesa Police Department are causing officers to leave thus the city is becoming unsafe.

However, the statistics tell a different story.

Just this week the FBI released its preliminary crime statistics for major cities from January to June 2013. Not surprisingly, Costa Mesa's crime rate is as at an historic low.

Violent crime is down 13% from the first half of 2012, assaults are down 46%. The category my family and I always focus on, burglaries, is down 30%.

Some say that crime is down across the board and we should not be surprised to see these figures. Yet some of our neighbors are not fairing so well. In Huntington Beach, violent crime was up for the first half of 2012 compared with the first half of 2013. In Santa Ana, murders were up during the same period. We don't have any statistics for murders in Costa Mesa because, thankfully, we didn't have a murder in the first halves of 2012 or 2013.

If you compare the preliminary crime statistics for Costa Mesa in 2013 and 2006, you will see an interesting comparison. All categories of crime are lower today than they were in 2006.

But why is 2006 so important? That was the year that our Police Department was bursting at the seams with officers. We even had our own helicopter program. Yet 2006 was also the year that we had six murders in our city, including several gang homicides. With so many officers on the street and our own helicopter in the air, why were there so many murders?  

The crime statistics illustrate an important point about public safety. More officers doesn't always translate into a safer city.

So why has Costa Mesa become such a safe city over the past few years? In my opinion, there are several reasons.

First, we have a police chief who is committed to making public safety the top priority. As a Costa Mesa resident, Chief Tom Gazsi understands well the impact that crime has on our city. He is heavily invested in the cause.

We now have a shared helicopter program that actually provides air support. Our old model was a disaster. It was so cost prohibitive that we could never afford to have the helicopter in the air. Now that we share resources with Huntington Beach and Newport Beach, our residents are getting increased flight time and a far better crime deterrent. [Newport Beach and Costa Mesa used to share a program called Air Borne Law Enforcement, or ABLE.]

Most importantly, we now have a city leadership that is focused on the root causes of crime in a holistic way. Don't just treat the symptoms of crime, treat the disease itself. Simply throwing more bodies at the problem is not always the solution.

The Police Department recently implemented a detailed crime-mapping program to identify the areas where crime is the most acute. We didn't have that software in 2006. The program has shown us that problem motels and group homes are magnets that are attracting crime into our city. The city has learned that by focusing resources in those areas, the rest of the city improves.

Two years ago, with the support of our City Council, city CEO Tom Hatch launched an innovative and unique program in our city. The Neighborhood Improvement Task Force was a ground-breaking initiative that brings many city departments together to address quality-of-life issues in our neighborhood to ensure they do not spiral into criminal activity. It now meets weekly to share resources and ideas. The program has been so successful that it is being copied by other cities.

The community is not surprised that Costa Mesa's crime rate is at historic lows. We have a terrific city and fantastic city leadership that is finally committed to honestly looking at the roots of our crime. Costa Mesa's police officers are among the highest paid in the region. They receive the unqualified support of our city CEO and council (pay raise, new vehicles, new technology) to help them perform their jobs.

To those who have recently departed, I'm disappointed. We have a terrific, vibrant and safe city. I'm saddened they couldn't see that. We should thank those officers and city leaders who are committed to keeping it that way.

Attorney COLIN MCCARTHY is a Costa Mesa planning commissioner.

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