Crime down in Riverside County

RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif. - Offenses ranging from murder to larceny dropped last year in cities and unincorporated communities served by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, lowering the overall crime rate by 2.2 percent, according to preliminary figures released today.

Sheriff's officials said that thanks to stepped up crime prevention and resolution methods, the Part I crime rate fell in 2017 compared to 2016.

Part I crimes are classified by the FBI as offenses that include murder, forcible rape, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, auto theft and larceny. Part I data are divided into two categories -- violent crime and property crime.

Sheriff's statistics, which are reported to the FBI and may undergo revision before they're published by the feds in the fall, showed that the violent crime component was down 8.8 percent, while property crimes dropped 1.6 percent.

According to Assistant Sheriff Joe Cleary, homicides plummeted last year in the unincorporated communities, where they were down 43 percent, and also in municipalities patrolled by the sheriff's department, which saw a 32 percent decline in murders.

The number of aggravated assaults shrank by 10 percent overall, and in the unincorporated areas, forcible rapes decreased by 14.3 percent year-to-year, according to the sheriff's figures.

Cleary said that among the elements applying downward pressure on the number of assaults was the sheriff's proactive steps to containing acts of domestic violence.

"It is important to note that the sheriff's department has a long history of collaboration with all responsive agencies when it comes to ... domestic violence resources,'' he said. "Our bureaus across the county have Domestic Violence Threat Management-trained investigators focusing on reviewing domestic violence reports, identifying subjects likely to commit repeated acts of domestic violence ... handling high-profile or threat management incidents and mentoring deputies to improve initial and follow-up domestic violence investigations.''

A total 5,752 vehicle thefts were recorded in 2017, compared to 6,301 in 2016 -- an 8.7 percent drop. However, Cleary acknowledged that while the composite figure was down, the number of auto thefts was actually up -- by 6.3 percent -- in the unincorporated communities. Burglaries, as well, were up .9 percent in the county areas.

"Our experts in the field of vehicle theft attribute this increase in the unincorporated areas to theft of construction equipment and recreational vehicles,'' the assistant sheriff said. "In addition, all-terrain 
vehicles and trailers have also been a target of theft.''

Sheriff Stan Sniff has repeatedly cautioned the Board of Supervisors about "bare bones'' manpower in the unincorporated areas, where the patrol ratio now stands at barely 1 deputy per 1,000 residents. Before the Great Recession, the ratio was about 1.2 per 1,000. The sheriff has contended with cyclical budget deficits for years, and the board has been conservative in covering the agency's shortfalls, leaving red ink and, according to the sheriff, little room for replacing staff.

Municipalities that contract with the county can determine what staffing levels they want, as long as they can afford to fund them. The sheriff's department provides law enforcement services in 17 of the county's 28 cities.

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