By: Nathan Champion
A Letter to My Neighbors across Elk Grove:
I love our city. I admire and respect the police that try to keep us safe. They have a challenging job and they literally put themselves at risk to help us. It is our job as citizens to help the Police operate safely and also to ensure that our city maintains a police department that is large enough and equipped enough to properly respond and protect us, if needed. There have been a couple of incidences over my last few years in Elk Grove that got me wondering about our police department, why responses took so long, and why I would receive resistance in wanting to file a police report with a Police Officer. I will share one of these experiences with you. As I researched, talked with neighbors, and tried to get answers to my questions about the police department, I have come to a belief that we need more Police Officers in Elk Grove. I have uncovered some limitations and some concerning facts, which I will address. I also have a plan to ask the city council for additional police officers, but I need your help. On Wednesday, October 10th 2018, at 6pm, I am asking my neighbors across Elk Grove to come to the Elk Grove City Council Meeting held at 8401 Laguna Palms Way, Elk Grove, CA 95757. Please wear a blue shirt to show your support for our police and to show that you are a part of this group asking for more Police. There are additional things you can do to help that I will discuss further on in this letter.
The Case for increasing the size of the Elk Grove Police Department
About 2 years ago, a group of 4 young adults came through my neighborhood and engaged in illegal activities. When they were asked to leave they got very aggressive, threatened me verbally, and were trying to intimidate me. As I called the police and moved close to my garage, they noticed my relative recording the situation from my home garage. They were physical with him, tried to steal his phone, and continued to try to intimidate us, verbally threatening my life. Other neighbors came out of their houses to see what was going on and to try to help with the situation and these young adults tried to intimidate my neighbors, yelling profanities and threats. At one point these young adults crossed the street from my house to my neighbor’s house and surrounded him 4 vs. 1. I positioned myself closer so that if they attacked him, that I could try to assist in defending them off, while trying to not to escalate the situation. Meanwhile, we were waiting for the police to show up. My wife had called the police as well, and so had several other neighbors.
As I stayed close, but not too close, my neighbor who was surrounded asked me to use my phone to record. When I began recording, two of the individuals assaulted me slapping and scratching my arm and trying to steal my phone, while continuing to threaten and intimidate. I maintained my composure and did not want to escalate the situation, despite being well within my right at this point to defend myself. Fact is, I have nice things and I am not interested in having to defend myself in a lawsuit for protecting myself if someone gets hurt. That is why we hire police to help us. Eventually, the young adults ran off after 20 minutes. The police responded about 5 minutes later – 25 minutes after the call and were unable to find the young adults when searching the neighborhood.
We had video from my home surveillance cameras, and from multiple cell phones, but the police that responded that evening (there were two) did not want to take a police report because we didn’t know the names of the young adults that attacked us and the crimes were suspected to be misdemeanors. My interpretation of this was that the police were busy and they didn’t think this would ever be prosecuted, so it wasn’t worth their time to take a police report. This is a logical method of managing resources when the resources are limited; however, my argument is that we as citizens of Elk Grove need to demand more police officers so that they respond quicker and also ensure that the officers do not feel that taking the time to take a police report will delay the Elk Grove Police Department from responding to another call.
As it turned out, we posted their pictures on social media and with help of the community had all four of their names confirmed by multiple sources within 12 hours. Apparently these individuals were well known and have engaged in crime before. One of these young adults was on probation. When the police checked on him he was in illegal possession of a firearm in violation of his probation. All of the young adults had ties to local gangs and as such the misdemeanor assault charges on two of them are upgraded to felonies. End result, three of the four individuals were charged with felonies resulting from this incident that the police showed up to after 25 minutes and initially did not want to take a police report for.
According to the 2017 Annual Elk Grove Police Report, there were 772 Priority 1 calls in 2017. The average response time for those calls was 5.1 minutes, which is pretty good; but, only 58.7% of Priority 1 calls were responded to within 5 minutes. There are no published numbers for how long the longest of the calls took. I would like to see enough Elk Grove Police Officers that 70% to 80% of Priority 1 calls are responded to within 5 minutes.
As part of my research, I looked up the FBI Uniform Crime Report Database for 2016. This database tracks all the reported crime per city in almost every city in the United States. I also looked up the California State Comptroller’s – City Revenues Per Capita database table. What I found was a little bit surprising and a little bit concerning. First, I only looked at data in California, and only for comparable sized cities (between population of 100,000 and 200,000). For cities of this size in CA, there are about 40. In 2016, Elk Grove has the LEAST amount of Police Officers per capita of all cities of similar size at .75 Police Officers per 1000 Elk Grove residents (See Figure 1). To put this in perspective, Roseville, CA, which falls in the similar size category, had .94 Police Officers per 1000 Elk Grove Residents in 2016. Elk Grove currently has 141 Police Officers and that puts the current ratio at about .80 Officers per 1000 residents. For Elk Grove to have .95 Officers per 1000 Residents, they would need to hire about 35 more than they have now, plus they would need to hire additional Police to compensate for those retiring or transferring out, etc.
Figure 1. Calculated FBI UCR Data Police Per 1K Residents https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2016/crime-in-the-u.s.-2016/topic-pages/police-employees – Table 26
It’s a simple fact that if there aren’t enough Police Officers to deal with all the calls coming in, then Officers will have to prioritize which calls they respond to. To me, the statistics show that Elk Grove has a higher population than most cities in the 100,000 to 200,000 yet has the least number of Police Officers. I would expect that as the population of Elk Grove increased, that the city of Elk Grove would be continuously increasing the size of the Elk Grove Police department to keep up, else we are inviting crime to come in our community where there are nice houses and few police.
Second, I have heard over and over that the city of Elk Grove is one of the safest cities for its size, but when I looked at the data, I don’t think that is entirely the case. Certainly there are areas where we are doing well, and Elk Grove Police Department is doing a great job keeping crime rates where they are considering the size of the Police Force, but I have some really big concerns here. Elk Grove is Average (17/39) when it comes to violent crime per 1000 residents (See Figure 2). When I have brought this up to city and police officials, I have been told that most of the violent crime is domestic violence and increasing the size of the police won’t really help that. Well maybe not, but I sure would hope that if someone is being violently attacked that we have enough police to respond in a fast enough manner to minimize the terror and/or physical damage that a victim has to endure. Also, as far as I know there is no publicly published data on the breakdown of Elk Grove violent crime to delineate what percentage of violent crime is domestic violence.
Figure 2. Calculated FBI UCR Data Violent Crime Per 1K Residents https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2016/crime-in-the-u.s.-2016/topic-pages/violent-crime – Table 6
Elk Grove also is Average (19/39) for the number of rapes reported (See Figure 3). When I brought this up with police leadership, I was told that many of these reports are teenage girls or women who are not reporting actual instances of rape, that in some cases they have sex and then change their mind, are out for revenge, or something else– these reports are not women being attacked and raped walking down the street. While, I understand that this may be true to a degree, I really hope that we don’t try to minimize these numbers based on some percentage of the reports that are not really rape- every city has to deal with that. Rape statistics across the board, in Roseville for example, include falsified reports of rape. Here we are comparing apples to apples, unless the EGPD is trying to say that we have more instances of falsified rape than other cities. My other thought is that if I have a teenage daughter who calls the police for rape, I want the police to show up fast. I don’t want there to be a 41% chance that it takes an Officer longer than 5 min (or how much longer) before they arrive. It might be forcible rape, could be date rape, could be false accusations, and any of them are going to keep a number of police officers busy while it is being investigated. Meanwhile, there will still be others needing police help. Hopefully, there will be other police officers available to respond to other calls in a timely manner.
Figure 3. Calculated FBI UCR Data Violent Crime Per 1K Residents https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2016/crime-in-the-u.s.-2016/topic-pages/rape – Table 6
Maybe most concerning is that Elk Grove is in the top third (30/39) for the number of aggravated assaults in 2016 (See Figure 4). The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program defines aggravated assault as an unlawful attack by one person upon another for the purpose of inflicting severe or aggravated bodily injury. The UCR Program further specifies that this type of assault is usually accompanied by the use of a weapon or by other means likely to produce death or great bodily harm. Attempted aggravated assault that involves the display of—or threat to use—a gun, knife, or other weapon is included in this crime category because serious personal injury would likely result if the assault were completed. When aggravated assault and larceny-theft occur together, the offense falls under the category of robbery.
Figure 4. Calculated FBI UCR Data Violent Crime Per 1K Residents https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2016/crime-in-the-u.s.-2016/topic-pages/aggravated-assault – Table 6
Aggravated Assault numbers in Elk Grove seem to be out of control and it makes me wonder, what makes people who would commit aggravated assaults do so in Elk Grove more than one of the other cities in CA? Why does Roseville have less than 25% of the of the aggravated assaults than Elk Grove? Is it because Elk Grove is closer to South Sacramento? Is it because gangs in Oak Park have an easy thoroughfare down Franklin Blvd into Elk Grove? Are gangs setting up in Elk Grove because there are not that many police here? I believe that an increase in Elk Grove Police will have a reduction in aggravated assaults because there are studies that show that more police, managed effectively, results in reduced crime.
While many cities across the area have seen large increases in violent crime in 2017, we in Elk Grove, have been fortunate that we haven’t seen any real uptick in overall crime. There could be a number of reasons for this, but the Elk Grove Police Department did increase their police officers by 13 from 128 in 2016 to 141 in 2017. City officials have pointed to an approximate 4% decrease in crime from 2016 to 2017. Notably in the Elk Grove Police 2017 Annual Report there is not a figure for “Violent Crime” or “Aggravated Assault”, but rapes did decrease from 51 in 2016 to 41 in 2017. Robbery had a slight increase from 94 in 2016 to 98 in 2017. Burglary had a small decrease from 373 in 2016 to 369 in 2017 and Larceny – Theft also decreased from 1760 in 2016 to 1691 in 2017. Motor vehicle theft increased slightly from 209 in 2016 to 212 in 2017. Unfortunately at the time of this writing, the 2017 FBI UCR statistics have not been released so we cannot compare figures for violent crimes and aggravated assaults.
There are empirical studies using Uniform Crime Reports that show that when residents in a city have greater confidence that a reported crime will be solved, then more crimes will be reported. There is data that supports that an increase in the size of a police department oftentimes results in a slight increase in the number of crimes reported. This is called “reporting bias”. According to at least one study “an increase in one officer is associated with an increase of about five index crimes that previously would have gone unreported” (Levitt, 1998). When looking at the decrease in crime in Elk Grove from 2016 to 2017 and the increase in the size of the police department, then taking into account the reporting bias, it is clear to me that increasing the size of our police force provides a significant increase in the safety of our residents. This is why I am advocating for a ratio of police to residents in Elk Grove of .95 to 1000.
Limitations to increasing the size of the Elk Grove Police Department
I have had a number of discussions with city officials, police officers, police leadership, and some city council members. No one has ever told me that we don’t need more police officers. I have received reasons that they believe we can’t or that it is not a high enough priority. I am going to share with you the reasons I have heard and also ask you to join my neighbors and I to let the city council know that we want increasing the size of our police department to be a higher priority, and that if they don’t we will vote for city council members and mayors that will prioritize our safety.
A city council member expressed to me that one limitation to hiring more police officers was that our police department building was too small. I thought this was a real legitimate consideration, so I asked him where we are going to build a new police station or substation. The answer I received was very surprising to be. The councilmember told me that the city had not planned a location for substation or police department yet and further that there were no funds allocated for such. This concerns me greatly because planning a location of a police department, budgeting for it, and building it will take four to five years! In the meantime, Elk Grove continues to increase in size and population. The lack of planning for police growth is very disappointing to me and shows that public safety is not a high priority as long as the Elk grove residents are not paying attention.
I have also been told that we just don’t have the money in our budget to pay for additional officers. While it is true that Elk Grove is on the lower end of revenue per capita (5/39) our total revenues are higher than one-third (13/39) of other cities (See Figure 5.) Every similarly sized city with less revenue per capita and every similarly sized city with less overall revenue still have more police officers than Elk Grove. To me the issue is not a matter of money, but a matter of prioritizing what the revenues should be spent on. I can think of nothing more important than ensuring the safety of my family. In having conversations with a number of my neighbors at meetings and viewing the results of online polling, the vast majority agree that we should prioritize hiring more police officers. On a quick side note, if you try to do as much of your shopping as you can in Elk Grove, the city will receive higher revenues. Collectively, we can help increase the revenue our city has to spend on police and other things.
Figure 5. California State Comptroller – City Revenues Per Capita https://bythenumbers.sco.ca.gov/City-Revenues/City-Revenues-Per-Capita/ky7j-fsk5
What is a good size for the Elk Grove Police Department?
There is some old literature that suggests that cities should have 1 officer per 1000 residents. I believe that with increases in technology and assuming that the city council is funding the police department to keep up with advances in technology that generate efficiencies, .95 officers per 1000 is a good number for Elk Grove to have. This ratio of police officers to residents will create a competitively sized police department with Roseville, Folsom, and Citrus Heights, although we would still have significantly less than Sacramento, West Sacramento, Galt, and Lodi. Hopefully, having more police presence in Elk Grove will make criminals choose to live somewhere else besides Elk Grove.
Figure 6. Calculated FBI UCR Data Police Per 1K Residents https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2016/crime-in-the-u.s.-2016/topic-pages/police-employees – Table 26
How can you Help?
Mayor Steve Ly SteveLy@elkgrovecity.org
Vice Mayor Darren Suen firstname.lastname@example.org
Council Member Pat Hume email@example.com
Council Member Steven Detrick firstname.lastname@example.org
Council Member Stephanie Nguyen email@example.com
We are an incredible city, with very diverse, and wonderful people. The more I meet my neighbors, the more I love this city. But it is ours, and it will only be as good as we are willing to put effort into it. We must let our city council know what is a priority to us and vote for city council members that will act on those priorities. I have been the Neighborhood Watch Captain of our small group for a few years because shootings, theft, drug sales, drug use, prostitution, reckless driving, barking dogs, damage to property, and other criminal activity created a necessity for us to band together as neighbors to do something. The Elk Grove Police helped out tremendously, and they do a wonderful job with the resources they have, but they can’t see and hear everything. I am meeting more and more neighbors with similar stories. Still, it is incredibly frustrating and discouraging when we call the police, but they can’t come in time and the criminals leave before the police arrive. Worse when they are there but have to wait for backup that is still several minutes away before they can deal with a dangerous situation. My immediate neighbors and I live next to a house that has had a dozen arrests in the last few years. I whole heartedly believe that the police and code enforcement are doing their job the best they can with the resources they have. I thank them every time I see them and have an abundance of respect for the job they do for us. We have a responsibility to ensure that the police department is the right size, with the right equipment, to adequately keep us safe and to adequately keep them safe as they do their job. Please take action to help me make our Elk Grove Police Department the right size. Thank you.
Articles I have based some of my opinion on: