By John Crowder
The recent spate of shootings that have occurred in Antioch, along with media reports deriding the city as one of the most “stressed out” in California, took center stage at the July 22 meeting of the Antioch City Council.
The timing of the shooting incidents happened to coincide with the quarterly address on crime statistics usually given by Chief Cantando to the council. At Tuesday’s meeting the presentation was instead given by Captain Leonard Orman, filling in for Cantando who was recovering from surgery.
Orman began his presentation by relaying a message from the chief recognizing the “unwavering support” given to the police department by the council. He then moved to directly address recent media reports that have been highly critical of the crime situation in Antioch. He said the chief was, “Very concerned about the unfortunate perception we’ve had recently in the media, social media, and on the Internet, that we’ve suffered this upsurge in shootings in our community.”
Saying that he would be presenting facts that he claimed would, “hopefully aid the community’s perception of our true crime picture,” he noted that shooting incidents in Antioch stood at 50 for the year as of close of business the day before, as compared to 44 for the city of Richmond, to which Antioch has been compared in the media recently with regard to crime. He went on to say that, at the same time last year, there were 51 such incidents in Antioch, and that there were 57 at the same time in 2012. “So you can see, we haven’t had quite the surge in violence that is being perceived,” he stated.
Orman spoke to a slide presentation, showing statistics indicating that violent crime was down 15.7%, property crime was up 2.9%, and total crime down just under 1%.
Orman also addressed police staffing in his presentation. He said that Antioch was suffering from, “depleting police resources due to the recession,” and “unprecedented retirements and other separations from our police department,” while also indicating that the department was in the process of rebuilding and adding staff. According to the chart he presented, Antioch had 88 full-time positions filled, but of these, 3 were in field training, 14 were unavailable for full duty due to injury or medical condition, and two were on extended leave, allowing only 69 full duty sworn positions. Orman stated, however, that since the chart he was showing had been produced a week ago, there were now an additional 5 officers back on full duty.
Also addressed during the presentation was the slow rate at which new officers were being added to the Antioch police force. From January to June of this year, the Antioch Police Department (APD) has had 1557 applicants for police officers. Of these, 60 made it to the eligibility list, and 8 were hired, a rate that works out to just over ½% of applicants being hired. Orman said that since January 1st 2013 the APD had hired 26 officers, but that this has only resulted in a net gain of 4 officers to date.
Following the crime statistic presentation, Mayor Wade Harper asked about the underlying reasons for the shootings, with Orman confirming that it was related to gang and drug activity, as stated in the presentation. Harper also noted that the city manager, Steve Duran, had authorized the APD to use whatever money is needed on overtime to “make up the gap until we can get more officers.”
Mayor Pro Tem Mary Rocha suggested working with the school district to put together a grant to get some recreation around the Sycamore area. “I think what we need to do also, at the same time we’re trying to suppress, is try to do prevention, in trying to bring something down at Sycamore where we could have a recreational, something that changes the mind of kids and I think I’ll appeal to the school district again, that we get together and put a grant together, I’m sure that there’s availability, that’s number one.” She also requested that community members take down the license numbers of cars they don’t recognize in their neighborhoods.
Council Member Tony Tiscareno expressed concern that community members are not coming forward to report criminal activity. He blamed potential retaliation as a roadblock. Orman noted, in response, that Antioch has an anonymous tip line people can use to report crime, and that, when used, it had been very effective.
During public comments on the issue, several residents spoke out. Roberta Haynes said that the violent crime problem was not just restricted to Sycamore, but that the parking lots at both Raley’s and Walmart are unsafe. “There isn’t enough (police officers) to cover this area,” she said.
Will LeRoy expressed concern for what he said was, “Just a total disrespect for law in this town.” Attributing the crime problem to low-income housing, he asked the council to not, “build more of those types of communities,” which require a greater need for police services. He also stated that he understood Antioch had police pensions owing of between $50 million to $80 million, and that, “the public has a right to know if the city is going bankrupt paying these pensions, and how far these pensions are reaching into funds that we could use in other areas.”
Antioch businessman Ken Turnage pulled out bullets he said had been pried from stucco where shootings had occurred which the police never responded to. He went on to complain of prostitutes on 18th Street at all times of the day, and said he witnessed an incident of a lady being accosted on the same street and a police officer driving by, witnessing the event, but not stopping to intervene.
William Dee, President of the Antioch Police Officer Association, addressed the issue of police staffing. He said Antioch is, “the fourth most dangerous city in California.” He went on to call for more police offices, noting that Richmond, a city with an almost identical population size to Antioch, has staffing levels of over 190 officers. “Authorized positions and actual boots on the ground is far different,” he stated, “Investigation and administrative staffing accounts for 29 of those 88 positions.” Dee pointed out that with six shifts, “Each shift has approximately seven officers to respond to calls for service.”
The next meeting of the Antioch City Council is scheduled for Tuesday, August 7th, at 7:00 pm. Meetings are held at City Hall.