The Fresno Police Department is running smoothly and efficiently.
That message came through loud and clear on Wednesday at Chief Jerry Dyer’s monthly Crime View news conference.
The city through the first half of 2018 had had 20 homicides, down from 38 at the same point in 2017. Total violent crimes in 2018 are down 1.3%. Total property crimes this year are down 18.5%.
Fresno had seen 287 shootings halfway through 2017; the city saw 207 shootings halfway through 2018.
“We’ve continued to see reductions in crime within our city…. These year-to-date numbers are absolutely incredible, ” Dyer said.
It wasn’t too long ago that Fresno routinely ranked among America’s car-theft capitals. No more.
“We’re proud to say that not only last year but this year we have had dramatic reductions” in car thefts, Dyer said.
Dyer said the department’s goal in 2017 was to reduce the number of car thefts to under 3,000.
“We were able to do that,” Dyer said.
The goal for 2018, Dyer said, is “to have under 2,000 cars stolen. Lofty goals, but goals that we’re very close to reaching.”
The Chief said Fresno had 1,545 car thefts halfway through 2017; that figure has dropped to 1,119 halfway through 2018.
“That’s 426 fewer vehicles stolen in city this year as compared to last year,” Dyer said. “That’s a lot fewer victims that went without transportation.”
Dyer said the department’s Career Criminal Auto Theft Team has made 146 arrests this year. More than two-thirds of the arrestees – 101 – have a history of violent behavior, Dyer said.
“They’re not just stealing cars,” Dyer said. “They’re stealing cars and going out and committing violent crimes…. Getting them off the street for auto theft means that we’re also getting violent criminals off the street.”
The Chief showed photographs of six car-theft suspects wanted by police.
“They have been in and out of our criminal justice system for many, many years,” Dyer said. “They continue to steal, many of them fueled by their addiction to methamphetamine.”
Dyer teamed with Lt. Joe Gomez to describe an interesting and, so far, unsolved string of business burglaries.
In a relatively brief time period, Dyer said, thieves on 11 separate occasions have broken into retailers and stolen significant amounts of cigarettes. All 11 burglaries were in North Fresno.
“As you know, cigarettes – there’s a high demand for those right now in our community because of the cost,” Dyer said.
Gomez then took the microphone and displayed snapshots from security cameras that caught a hooded burglary suspect in the act at two businesses. The suspect makes his rounds on a bicycle and uses a yellow crowbar to gain entry.
“Thousands of dollars (in cigarettes) have been taken,” Gomez said. “…. He’s loading them, he’s packing the backpack, taking as many as he can.”
The thieves then sell the cigarettes, Gomez said.
Later in the news conference, I asked the Chief how the stolen cigarettes are fenced. I also asked if federal and state officials have suggested to Fresno Police that everyone combine on a task force to combat what appears to be a growing trend in cigarette theft.
Taxes on cigarettes add a lot of money to government coffers. For example, California last year added $2 in taxes on each pack of cigarettes, raising the total state tax to $2.87 per pack. I’m guessing a typical pack of cigarettes (20 to a pack) costs $7 to $8.
“As a result of the tobacco taxes, some of those dollars do come the county,” Dyer said. “They don’t come back to us, other than there is a grant that we receive, a tobacco grant, to work some of our operations where they’re selling to minors.
“The responsible stores lock up their cigarettes. We know pharmacies had an incredible amount of promethazine, cough syrup, stolen. All of that promethazine is now locked up. We’ve had no thefts in the last 28 days of promethazine because they’ve taken measures to lock it up. What we encourage businesses to do is to secure those things like cigarettes that come in small cartons that have great value and there’s a tremendous demand out there in the community for them. They’re easy to sell.”
I appreciated the Chief’s response. I just wasn’t sure he had answered my question. I tried again, asking if Uncle Sam or Jerry Brown (or their representatives) had contact PD on this issue.
“Uncle Sam doesn’t really offer local law enforcement a lot in the way of grants, and the State of California does not, either,” the Chief said. “We’re left to deal with those issues on our own.”
Seems unlikely to me that a government going to all the trouble to heavily tax a retail product, in part to alter consumer behavior and in part to generate big money for vital programs, would take a low-key approach to what is perhaps a growing criminal threat to that stream of taxes.