By Katrina Van Duzee/Garden Grove Journal
Despite high unemployment nationwide and a sagging economy, violent crime in Stanton decreased 19 percent in 2009 compared to 2008 and crime in general was down 17 percent, an unusual trend in economic hard times.
The drop in crime has come at an interesting time, but is attributed it to a regime change within the police department, high morale of the officers and support from the city, according to Stanton Chief of Police Services of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, Lt. Jeff Passalaqua.
When Sandra Hutchens was appointed sheriff of Orange County in 2008 this change of command lead to many adjustments within the way the department has been run and its personnel, according to Passalaqua.
Hutchens “brought in a new accountability towards her managers,” Passalaqua said. “We have meetings and if there is a rise in the crime rate in Stanton, for instance, I have to get up in front of everybody with the PowerPoint slide in the background and the pie chart showing the spikes in crime. I am held accountable.”
As head of the Stanton division he is expected to come up with strategies to combat areas where crime is high.
The two crimes that saw the greatest decrease last year were burglary, which dropped 35 percent and robbery dropping 28 percent. Larceny continues to be the crime that occurs most often, dropping 13 percent.
While Passalaqua admitted that it is hard to say why crime rates have not risen in troubled times, he mentioned that an area of focus within the department has been making sure there is high visibility within the community and encouraging his officers to be out patrolling the streets, not sitting in the office.
Council member David Shawver also cited visibility as a reason for the decreasing crime rate.
“We have kept our preventative patrol time right where it needs to be.” Shawver said. “We have really earmarked the areas where our officers need to be and the time in which they need to be there.”
Despite an overall decrease of criminal activity, one area that has seen an increase is vandalism. “We have a higher rate of vandalism reported this year,” Passalaqua said. “We caught five (taggers) last year, which is not that many…it is a very hard crime to catch. We are looking at increasing enforcement and some special detailed projects,” Passalaqua added.
Talks of how to effectively tackle the graffiti problem in Stanton are currently in progress between the police department and the city council.
A factor that will likely affect the quality of law enforcement in Stanton’s future depends on whether the state will be yanking five million from local tax dollars to help balance the state budget, Shawver said.
“I am so concerned with the state taking all our money. If we don’t provide these services, the state is not going to,” Shawver said.
As for whether or not Stanton will continue to see criminal activity shrink, Shawver is hopeful.
The police department has sent out a message to the community that you won’t get away with crime by successfully catching almost all criminals guilty of serious offenses, Shawver said, “no matter what the crime is, in Stanton we are going to catch you.”