Mid-year sees increase in auto burglaries

By Bev Britton on February 19, 2018

In his semi-annual report to the City Council on Feb. 13, Concord Police Chief Guy Swanger focused on crime at the city’s main shopping centers and in the downtown area.

Auto burglaries were up 30 percent from 2016 to 2017. Overall, 35 percent of those break-ins occurred at the Willows or Sunvalley Shopping Center – with 23 percent at the Willows.

“They come in and they hit three or four cars at time. They are in and out in less than a minute,” Swanger said. “The amount of damage that is being done for insignificant type of property is mind-staggering.”

Swanger said the Police Department is working hard to slow the rate of car break-ins. “We have run details; we’ve put undercover officers out there; we’ve chased people that are crashing into cars, driving the wrong way on freeways.”

But he said the police alone can’t stop this problem, and he urges residents to do one simple thing: “Do not leave objects in plain sight.”

The department has posted photos on its Facebook page showing parked cars with expensive items in clear view. The chief calls the posts “some public shaming, some education.”

When City Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister asked if the shopping centers could enhance surveillance to help thwart crime, the chief hesitated before saying the department was “still having conversations” with center officials.

Swanger said he continues to see organized crime from people living as far away as Bakersfield. He cited an example of a recent theft at the Veranda. “By the time we were ready to post the pictures of them, they got caught in Livermore doing the same thing,” he said.

The chief reported an overall decrease in robberies, burglaries and auto thefts. “Residential and commercial burglaries are bottoming out,” he said. “We have not seen numbers like that in well over 30 years.”

Concord saw a 26 percent reduction in car thefts year to year, and other area cities are reporting similar drops.

“One of the largest theories is that as cars start getting older, people start donating them and getting rid of them. And the newer cars have much stronger anti-theft locks attached to them, so those numbers start dropping,” Swanger said. “We will know if that’s a true theory in the next couple years.”

Meanwhile, downtown crime continues to center around the homeless and the BART station. The chief credits the City Council with pushing for an increased focus on BART-related crimes, adding that other cities have followed Concord PD’s lead. “Citations for fare evading in other cities have had a huge impact on our city,” he said.

“I’ve heard from business owners and regular riders that they feel it is a much safer environment now,” added Councilwoman Carlyn Obringer.

Another area of concern is the rise in reported rapes. Of the 64 cases in 2017, 61 were family or acquaintance rape – which Swanger calls “very troubling.” He expects rape reports to continue to climb, pointing to the national #MeToo movement along with the impact of the Family Justice Center.

“Having the Family Justice Center makes it an easier transition to actually tell somebody about it,” he said.

Mayor Edi Birsan said he wanted “more than badges and guns” in the next report. He noted that Concord’s officers are doing some “pretty amazing things,” including saving lives.

“I would like to see that positive side of safety reflected in the next report,” the mayor told the chief, who agreed.

Obringer said residents didn’t have to wait six months and could visit the police Facebook page anytime. “There are many heart-warming stories,” she said.

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