In a national climate where police distrust is at an all-time high and a state where new legislation has changed the way officers can enforce the law, running a police department comes with its challenges.
With an engaged community and proactive department, La Habra Police Chief Jerry Price said they work to find innovative ways to stay effective and connected.
Price recently sat down to outline what he thinks the La Habra PD did best in 2015 while forecasting what they have planned for the upcoming year:
Question: What are some community engagement accomplishments you are most proud of in 2015?
Answer: There are many; it was a good year.
Coffee with a Cop started last year and that was a success. It’s been another way that we’ve been reaching out to the community trying to get them to work closer with us.
We have our Citizens’ Academy which we offer in Spanish and English, our Open House, and National Night Out.
We’ve also been reaching out and working with our schools more.
In 2015, we started a law enforcement academy for our middle schools. It’s a six-week program that affords students an opportunity to get to know the police department and how we work.
Our social media outreach has expanded and our Facebook page now has 5,000 likes.
We do something called “While You Were Sleeping,” which recaps significant events throughout the day. That has been very popular. The citizens like having that information and communication with the police department.
Q: What about public safety achievements?
A: We continue to keep our response times low in La Habra and we’ve done really well in that regard.
Our priority one calls, which are emergency calls, averaged a 3:42 response. We try to always stay under four minutes.
We’ve also continued our bicycle patrol and added bicycle safety programs at some of our local schools, which have both been very effective.
Traffic safety is also an ongoing goal we have in the city.
We’ve been actively going after grants from the California Office of Traffic Safety for DUI patrols and checkpoints and targeted enforcement at intersections that have had the most collisions.
We are also always working on our crime stats and working to keep them low, but there have been challenges.
Q: What are some of those challenges that law enforcement faces today?
A: If you watch the national news, public trust of law enforcement is a big issue around the country and it all comes down to working with the community.
That’s been our focus the last couple of years, whether it’s Coffee with a Cop, the Citizens’ Academy or the officers getting out of their patrol cars to interact with a child or simply talk with some people in the community.
The community knows their officers and we know them. I think we have a good relationship, but we’re always trying to improve it.
We’ve seen an increasing crime rate throughout the region, not just in La Habra. Locally, we’ve talked a lot about Prop 47 and the impacts we’ve seen.
Q: Can you talk more about how Prop 47 has impacted the city?
A: Prop 47 has been a challenge and while I don’t think we’re going to have any academics that can say there is a straight “cause and effect” between Prop 47 and crime rates, there is too big of a coincidence.
(Prop 47 reduced many drug possession charges from felonies to misdemeanors and also did away with filing felony charges for offenders who habitually commit certain misdemeanor crimes.)
We are up 20 percent on Part I crimes (homicide, rape, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft and arson) in 2015 compared to 2014.
All of our violent crime is flat, but property crime went up 22 percent, so when you average that with property crime, our overall rates went up 20 percent.
But if you look at our long-term averages for Part I crimes, we are still consistent with that. It is important to look at the five- and 10-year averages for context.
We saw 1,331 Part I crimes for our five-year average and 1,457 for our 10-year average.
Our officers are arresting more people than we did in the past.
In 2014, we arrested 2,033 people — 1,458 misdemeanors and 575 felonies. In 2015, we had 2,086 arrests — 1,648 misdemeanors and 402 felonies.
I think what it comes down to is this, with the passage of Prop 47, the deterrent for some criminals has gone away. They know they are not going to get charged with a felony and they don’t care about the misdemeanor.
As a result, it just continues the cycle of us arresting them only to see them being put back out on the streets. Nobody wants to pay for these non-violent offenders to be in custody, but if they are not in custody, it means they are out in our community.
We’re doing our best to stay after it, but it’s going to be an ongoing challenge.
Overall, La Habra is doing pretty good, but if you’re the victim of a crime, one is too many, so we will continue to develop and implement crime reduction strategies to address the increased activity.
Q: What are some goals you have for the department in the upcoming year?
A: We’re going to continue to work on our outreach to the community and look for new ways to build public trust and keep La Habra a safe and great place to live and work.
We’re looking at possibly updating our computer-aided dispatch, which involves our computer systems that track our officers, calls for services, and where we input all of our data, such as citations and reports.
Emergency preparedness for our community will remain a priority for this year.
La Habra PD generally hosts two emergency preparedness meetings annually and we should have one coming up in April.
If there is a significant disaster, we need the community to be as prepared as possible.
Another one of our goals is to achieve full staffing at the police department.
I currently have three vacancies and it’s been many years since we have been fully staffed.
We are always looking for good people to bring on board and have actively been recruiting locally. We love to hire La Habra residents or people who grew up here and want to serve this community.
Price will give a presentation of the department’s achievements and goals at the annual State of the Community event, which will feature Mayor Jim Gomez and other city officials, Feb. 24 at the Westridge Golf Club.