When Davis police arrested a single burglary suspect back in December, investigators cleared not one but dozens of open burglary cases — the crime that has most plagued the community over the past year.
The arrest was among the first made by a newly created unit at the Davis Police Department — the Special Assignment and Focused Enforcement (SAFE) team, whose members are using more creative investigative and enforcement tactics with the goal of identifying the sources behind the troubling crime trend.
“We’re trying to figure out what the underlying problems are, who the people are that are significant contributors to our crime rate, and trying to find solutions,” Lt. Paul Doroshov said of the team, formed using existing personnel including a sergeant, three investigators, a crime analyst and crime prevention specialist.
According to a crime statistics report delivered to the Davis City Council last week, local residents reported 1,797 property crimes during the year 2013, of which 876 were burglaries — residential, vehicle and commercial.
Home burglaries saw the largest increase from 2012 — up 70 percent from the previous year, compared to 32 percent for car break-ins and 29 percent for commercial burglaries.
Police Chief Landy Black blames the increase in part on the 2011 enactment of AB 109, the prison realignment measure under which felons convicted of nonviolent, nonsexual and nonserious offenses serve their time in county jails or through community supervision, rather than in state prison.
“We have seen an increase in the number of property crimes that might be associated with the thousands of offenders … who are no longer being held accountable in the same way they were before,” Black told the council.
AB 109 contributed to the formation of the SAFE team, which works hand-in-hand with the Yolo County Probation Department in what Black calls “intelligence-led policing” — gathering information on criminal behavior and analyzing crime patterns to determine who is behind the activity, in addition to probation searches and compliance checks.
“What it tries to do is be a little bit more proactive, rather than responsive, to crimes,” Black said.
The team meets once a week to set priorities and study crime trends, which determines where its efforts should be focused at any given time. Its members use sources in the community to collect information about possible suspects, which is shared with patrol officers and detectives “so the whole department is working in unison to solve that problem,” Doroshov said.
So far, the SAFE team’s work has led to 25 arrests over the past three months, including the disruption of a significant burglary ring. Sgt. Mike Munoz said the city’s burglary rate has plummeted from one break-in every 16 hours to one every 124.
The team also is behind the busts of three alleged drug houses operating in residential neighborhoods, including one in which the occupants were suspected of dealing to minors.
Black said officers have discovered a “strong linkage” between drug offenses and property crimes, with drug arrests leading to the recovery of stolen belongings “almost without fail.”
The SAFE team also works with neighboring law-enforcement agencies that are experiencing similar problems, including Woodland, where police nabbed a suspected seven-member burglary ring back in January.
“There is some interconnection” when it comes to such crimes among adjacent communities, Doroshov said. “It’s usually pretty hard to draw city lines — they tend to operate in an area as opposed to a specific city.”
While burglaries remained a significant crime trend in Davis for the first part of 2014, “it’s not as steep as it was for the 2012-2013 crime rate,” Black told the City Council.
Black said police also have ramped up their efforts to inform the community about crime-prevention tactics, and a tragic double-homicide on Cowell Boulevard last April may also have played a role in reducing crime in that part of town.
“I think we saw a lot of people take better precautions around their homes in South Davis,” Black said.
— Reach Lauren Keene at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene