The Tustin Police Department recently hosted its Spring 2019 Neighborhood Watch Meeting at the Tustin Community Center to brief about 200 residents on crime trends and new state laws that are creating challenges for law enforcement.
Tustin Police Chief Stu Greenberg urged neighborhood watch members not to hesitate to contact their police department if they think they’ve witnessed a crime because there’s a good chance they’re right.
“You folks are our eyes and ears and we need you,” Greenberg said.
Like all law enforcement agencies in California, the Tustin Police Department is facing unprecedented hardship because of changes in state law, Greenberg said. Among these new laws is Assembly Bill 1421, which widens the scope of records that the public can request, including files about officer misconduct.
Greenberg said this is problematic because members of the public can request records that go back 50 years, requiring support staff to dedicate a significant amount of time to locate and redact information that’s not legally releasable. He added that the Tustin Police Department currently doesn’t have the technical capability to redact footage from body camera video.
In 2017, the state legislature passed Senate Bill 54, which prohibits California police agencies from sharing information with Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents. Greenberg said he and other police chiefs opposed this measure because it inhibits the traditional cooperation between law enforcement agencies.
Among the most impactful legislation is Proposition 47, which downgraded the penalties for non-violent crimes such as drug offenses. Unfortunately, this means there are a lot more drug addicts committing both violent and property crimes to feed their habit, Greenberg said.
“Prop. 47 came along and the people we used to take to jail we couldn’t take them to jail anymore,” he said.
So far this year, Tustin police have seen an increasing number of residential burglaries, thefts from vehicles, and larcenies compared to last year. For example, Tustin has seen a 57.1 percent increase in residential burglaries, from 155 last year to 223 this year.
Meanwhile, Tustin has seen a 59 percent decrease in the number of commercial burglaries, from 34 last year to 17 this year. Tustin police have also seen a decrease in reports of domestic violence-related aggravated assaults from seven last year to just one so far this year.
Tustin resident Pete Beatty helped found the Tustin Park Neighborhood Watch about 15 years ago. He spoke of the value of recruiting retirees, whose schedules are more unpredictable than someone who works full time.
“I felt there was a need for people to take care of each other and watch out for each other,” Beatty said. “When people realize it’s a community effort they’re more likely to get involved.
One of the main neighborhood watch lessons Beatty shares with his neighbors is to never physically intervene when they encounter a crime in progress so they don’t put themselves or others in danger. Instead, he recommends they immediately call 911.
Adrian Henson of the Tustin Meadows Neighborhood Watch said he typically sees a spike of interest in his organization after officers respond to a call for service. Henson said his neighborhood watch has been successful at using the social network Nextdoor to inform neighbors about criminal activity. The key has been having one or two administrators volunteer to manage comments that are unnecessarily offensive, he said.
Thieves will use opportunities created by unlocked doors, unattended packages, and open garages to steal whatever appears to be valuable, Lt. Duane Havourd said. That’s why Henson keeps an eye peeled for open garage doors while walking his dogs and will either knock on the front door to let his neighbors know or close garage doors himself.
“If someone wants to get in your house they’re going to get in, but at least the alarm will notify the police,” Henson said.