Antioch City Council hears about continued crime increase, wants to hire more police
By James Ott
Crime rates in Antioch are still soaring and the city’s police chief and council agree the best way to curtail that trend is to hire more cops – a move that will cost taxpayers millions if it is approved.
In an end-of-the-year report given at the council meeting, on Tuesday February 15, Antioch Police Chief Alan Cantando reported that Antioch’s crime rates were up and arrest rates were down from January to December 2012, compared with those same rates in 2011.
Total cases of violent crime were up 30.6 percent, including a doubling of homicide cases while property crime was up nearly 23 percent and arrests were down 13.7 percent, according to Cantando.
The main cause of those startling figures are that the city’s police force just doesn’t have enough manpower to keep up with a large, high-crime city like Antioch, said Cantando.
“[It] comes from our staffing levels. Obviously the more officers you have on the streets, the more arrests you’re going to be able to make,” he said.
During his presentation, the Chief showed a slide comparing Antioch’s police force in 1995 with what it is today to illustrate why he believes crime rates may be so high.
Antioch in 1995 had about 75,000 residents and had 89 sworn officers to deal with it’s 48,000 calls for police service. Fast forward to today and the population has grown to 104,000 and must deal with over 81,000 calls for service and it only has 88 sworn officers. In addition Antioch has had to rid itself of nearly all of the specialized units such as the narcotics and traffic units it used to have in 1995.
Antioch City Council has actually approved up to 102 sworn officers and 6 Community Service Officers, (CSO’s), for the police force. Currently the city has 88 of those sworn positions filled with 7 more in the hiring process, leaving 7 vacancies waiting to be filled. Two CSO’s have been hired and one more is in the hiring process, leaving 3 CSO vacancies.
To fix the city’s crime problem Cantando presented the city council with two hiring options. He said that the city could approve hiring 24 more officers to get to the 126 sworn policeman he considers the minimum to get crime rates in check. The police force could then have dedicated officers for the area high schools, 4 traffic officers, 5 community officers, and a narcotics and a special response unit, among others.
It’s estimated that those 22 officers would cost taxpayer’s $3.6 million.
What Cantando really wants however, is to eventually have 144 sworn officers in Antioch. It would allow the same specialized units only they would be better staffed. The extra police would also allow things like specialized gang enforcement and burglary suppression – things that have plagued the city for years.
The cost for 42 more Antioch police? An estimated $6.8 million.
Despite the cost, Cantando and the city council say they support whatever is necessary to bring crime rates down in Antioch.
Mayor Wade Harper – a former Tracy Police Officer who ran his campaign mainly on reducing crime – said that the crime rates are unacceptable and he commended Cantando for working with the city to fix the problem.
Mayor Pro-Tem Mary Rocha, a resident of Antioch for decades lamented the city’s transformation into a high-crime city. “Those who haven’t lived here long don’t know what we’ve lost.”
Council member Gary Agopian, a self-professed fiscal conservative, said that the high cost needs to be paid, and he openly supported hiring up to 144 officers.
“I’ve heard the argument that we can’t afford this. Well look what we’re affording right now,” said Agopian. “We’re affording reduced property values. Is that OK? Is it OK that we have to buy security systems? For a city our size we need the 144 sworn officers. I want to make that statement tonight – that’s the number we need. Nothing less because anything less gets us what we already have, and that’s not good enough.”
Several Antioch Residents showed up at the meeting, complaining of crime in their neighborhoods. Many said they see daily drug deals from low-income housing nearby.
Resident Shelly French who lives on rock island drive off of Deer Valley Road choked up when describing the two bullet holes that went through her husbands truck and into her garage.
If the city council decides to approve the hiring of additional officers, they will need to find funding and even then the city will likely wait for years to see the benefits of the new officers.
Antioch Police Department has been struggling to fill it’s current vacancies, let alone dozens more. According to Cantando that is due to the standard slow recruitment and hiring process for officers. He said that the city’s police department has gone through 833 applicants just to get those 7 sworn officer candidates that are currently in the hiring process – a capture rate of about one percent.
Chief Cantando said hiring those additional officers could take up to two more years.
Also at the Meeting:
The Bay Area’s Water Emergency Transportation Authority, (WETA), recently completed a feasibility study on the proposed Antioch Ferry Terminal.
At the last council meeting they presented city council with four possible locations for the ferry terminal.
The early estimates are that the terminal will cost from a low of about $7 to $17 million to a high of $18 to $26 million.
Two of the proposed sites were located off of the fishing pier while the other two were closer to the land area of downtown Antioch. The “fishing pier” sites tended to be less expensive due to some infrastructure being in place while the “downtown” sites tended to increase in price due to higher construction cost estimates.
The city council seemed to want the site that would most allow economic growth in the downtown area while still remaining affordable to the city.
The cost estimates are very early and the city and county would still eventually need to find revenue to pay for the terminal.
“Ultimately this is going to feed into a discussion of a sales tax,” said WETA Planner Chad Mason. “Right now there is no operational funding for this project.”
Next up the city has to develop the project further, find funding partners and then go through the environmental review process.
Mayor Wade Harper planned to attend the meeting with WETA on February 21 to further discuss the project and will keep the city updated on it’s progress.