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Property Crime On The Rise, But Violence Is Down In Riverbank

Property crimes are up and crimes against people are down in Riverbank, a trend that follows national statistics, according to Police Chief Art Voortman.

The city's crime statistics for 2004 show the total of felony burglaries of houses, businesses and vehicles rose from 307 in 2003 to 357 in 2004.

Break-ins and theft from locked vehicles, which are included in felony burglaries showed a dramatic climb. That figure rose from 104 to 174.

Next is misdemeanor theft, in which items worth less than $400 were taken, often from unlocked vehicles. This figure climbed from 249 in 2003, to 382.

"Residents are still not locking their vehicles as the should, whether they park in driveways or on the street. We are getting a lot of thefts from vehicles, especially in the Crossroads and between 2- and 5 a.m.," said Voortman.

Victims' reasons ranged from fatalistic to vague, or they are too reliant upon insurance. One victim told an investigating officer that he did not lock his vehicle because he didn't want the window broken.

The items stolen are not necessarily expensive stereos, he said, but statistics include anything left around in the car, including cell phones. Cell phone companies now require that their theft be reported.

Officers even find signs that thieves have been rifling through glove compartments. In one case, the bound, warranty book for an expensive vehicle was stolen but recovered. He cannot guess why it was taken in the first place.

"It's surprising how many people there are wandering about in the middle of the night," said Voortman. "There are adults out there exercising, youths ignoring the curfew but there are also cranksters (people on "crank" or methamphetamines). Our graveyard officers stop and talk to people all night. A lot of them seem to have no destination or purpose in being out."

By comparison with property crimes, some categories of crimes against persons actually dropped. Felony assault with a deadly weapon dropped from 28 to 16 incidences. Assault and battery, a misdemeanor, also came down, from 128 to 117.

There was just one homicide, compared to none in 2003. That was the case of Martin Leon, who was shot down in his Crossroads driveway while leaving for work. His wife and three men were recently arrested and charged with collaborating in his murder.

Among other reported felonies, rape was down from the previous year from 10 to nine; robbery up, from 12 to 14; grand theft, up from 83 to 106; and motor vehicle theft, up from 139 to 143.

"There was no major increases in vehicle theft. We lose about 12 cars a month. That figure is not acceptable. But it's nothing compared to Modesto or Ceres," he said.

The crime statistics also show 113 stolen vehicles were recovered, without indication from which city they were stolen.

Noting that felony or "grand" theft was up a little, Voortman said that this follows a state and even a national trend, and that this is perhaps due to tight economic times. Much of it is due to drug addicts looking for cash to finance their habit, he suggested.

Narcotics violations rose from 47 to 60 for felonies, and from 37 to 64 for misdemeanors.

"Police have seen drug penalties greatly reduced under recent law," he complained. "Addicts are not regarded as criminals any longer, but sent for medical treatment. That does not work in my opinion. They are back on the street the next day committing more crime."

Misdemeanor theft of goods worth less than $400 was up from 249 to 382.

Disorderly conduct, another misdemeanor, climbed from 898 to 1,237. Most crimes in that category are disturbing the peace offenses, which rose from 835 to 1,174.

"That includes everything from loud music to offensive behavior or fighting," said Voortman. "Thanksgiving unfortunately seems to produce a large number of incidents. Seems like families gather around the turkey and start fighting over the drumsticks."

Domestic violence calls showed a drop, from 71 to 43, and those involving weapons, from 54 to 50. But Voortman believes that a large number of such incidents go unreported.

Total arrests and bookings for adults were down from 391 to 318.

"That's not good. I'd like to see more felony arrests. But the courts do not punish hard enough. More offenders should go to prison. They are back out on probation too soon. I used to believe in rehabilitation. But I'm tired of seeing the stats go up."

One of the main problems is the overcrowding of the jails, including juvenile hall, he said. Officials must "play the numbers game" to meet federal law. Inmates charged with minor crimes are routinely cited and released towards the weekends to make room for the new offenders that are expected.

"It's the same with warrants. We have drawers full of them. We don't have warrant officers any longer. They are all on patrol. But the courts will dismiss these cases if we do not make an effort to serve the warrant. I want to get these DUIs into court and prosecuted."

Traffic accidents rose from 216 to 249. There was one fatality, that of the elderly man turning left into O'Brien's shopping center. Injury accidents were up from 28 to 41; property damage cases, from 121 to 152; but hit and run cases were down, from 66 to 55, Drunk and driving cases also dropped, from 47 to 39. Citations issued climbed, from 1,919 to 2,623.

Voortman said that traffic had increased, of course, but he hoped the addition of the new traffic officer on a motorcycle would slow the number of accidents.

He said that some highway intersections have been improved, notably at Callander Avenue and Patterson Road. But there are still dangerous spots, such as Jackson Avenue and Howard Avenue, where he hopes the California Department of Transportation will speed up proposed changes.

News Editor John Branch may be contacted at 847-3021 or



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