January 18, 2008

Mayor Tony Santos Takes Heat from Residents on Crime

Mayor Tony Santos displays a report with 2007 crime statistics to residentsAt a meeting at the San Leandro library on January 15, 2008, San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos and Assistant City Manager Steve Hollister faced a crowd of more than 100 energetic and increasingly hostile residents.

Santos had originally sent letters inviting the leaders of 15 homeowners associations "to hear comments and concerns you have regarding crime and safety in our community." That invitation got sent to electronic mailing lists and published in the January 10, 2008, edition of the San Leandro Times. After noting that there more RSVPs for the meeting than invitations, the meeting was moved from a small conference room at the library to the lecture hall.

Mayor Santos focused on statistics provided by the San Leandro Police Department showing a 5% decrease in crime from 2006 to 2007 while meeting participants were more concerned about crime in their neighborhoods.

In response to a letter from a resident concerned about safety in the Best Manor neighborhood, Santos said that he parked at City Hall, walked back and forth to the Oakland border and saw that things were fine.

Similarly, he noted that he gets around town, which allows him to know what is going on in each neighborhood. In District 2, he noted that he goes to lunch at Harry's, Guadalajara, La Bella Italia and Carrow's for breakfast sometimes.

Santos went on, "You live in a very safe community. A lot of you don't believe that. Statistically, you're wrong."

After nearly 25 minutes of listening to Santos share some of the email he had received, letters-to-the-editor, and, strangely, crime statistics for the city of Adelanto, Santos asked the crowd how many had been affected by crime. Santos then shared that he had been a victim of crime 10 times, including having his car stolen three times. When Santos asked, "Is crime up in San Leandro? Do you know? Do you know? How many of you feel crime is up?", the crowd indicated crime was up and one resident answered, "On my street it is." There was grumbling from the crowd as Santos called the show of hands "a clear majority" and noted that nobody thought that crime was down. Santos showed the crowd statistics and stated that crime was down 25% over the last 10 years and that it was down an additional five percent in 2007. [Editor's note: The city's statistics show that the total number of crimes is down 24% from a high of 6412 crimes in 1994 to 4848 crimes in 2007, but without the population numbers for those years, it is difficult to know if the crime rate went up or down. It should also be noted that the years 1993 to 1995 had abnormally high numbers of crimes.] Tim Holmes, owner of Zocalo Coffeehouse and a Broadmoor-area resident, responded, "How do you define crime? What does that mean?...Car thefts are up 72%." Santos said, "Tim, you're wrong." Holmes cited the FBI as the source of the information. [Editor's note: According to the FBI, which gets it data from the San Leandro Police Department, auto thefts went from 725 in 1996 to 1247 in 2006, an increase of 72%.] .Santos then claimed that the most recent FBI statistics are from 2005, which was quickly refuted by a member o the audience [Editor's note: FBI crime statistics for 2006 are available at http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2006/index.html].

Santos went on to state "The City of San Leandro Police Department responds to every single call..." which was greeted with loud skepticism from the crowd. After Santos asked, "In which year of the last 25 years did we have the most crime?" the crowd had had enough. People in the crowd shouted that they wanted to know about what was happening now. An audience member asked Santos to clarify whether he was discussing crime statistics or the crime rate. Santos first said that the numbers are down and then claimed that he was discussing the crime rate as well. When Santos indicated he was going to report the crime statistics to show that crime was down, Holmes interrupted by asking the crowd, "Is anybody here going to believe the statistics that he's about to provide us provide an accurate portrayal of the area in which you live?" and the crowd indicated that they didn't.

Throughout the meeting, Santos stated in defense that he had intended the meeting to be with the leaders of 15 homeowners associations, but residents questioned what Santos had expected to present to the homeowners association leaders. William Cousins was at the meeting representing residents of Aileen Street and complained about a resident on his block who had been arrested "200 times" and was quickly back on the street after each arrest.

Wafaa Aborashed of the Davis West Neighborhood Association said that the police chief needed to be there to the applause and agreement of the crowd.

Linda Perry, of the Halcyon-Foothill Homeowners Association, asked for crime information relevant for specific areas so that residents could be warned and be on the lookout.

Santos noted that the Washington Manor area had the lowest overall number of crimes and said that it was because of a "strong homeowners association going back the better part of 50 years," and because "they've established a neighborhood watch."

After asking and challenging Perry about attendance at Halcyon-Foothill Neighborhood Association meetings, Santos took questions from the audience.

Emmett Cadigan of the Assumption Parish neighborhood said that "it's more of a quality-of-life issue" than a crime and stats issue. When Cadigan complained about an event at the high school and a "rude" dispatcher, Santos challenged him to cite the date and time of the incident. Aborashed noted the large amount of graffiti in the Davis West area and five automobile break-ins in one block and said, "The elders in our neighborhood are terrorized."

Aurora Drive resident George Bond, a law enforcement officer, noted that the numbers being claimed to show a decrease in crime didn't necessarily affect the crime rate, which can be affected by changes in population. Santos didn't respond to Mr. Bond's comments and moved on to other comments.

Brenda Salgado, from the Farrelly Pond Neighborhood Association said, "The best thing that can come out of this meeting is if the homeowners associations and the people in our community put our heads together and say What concrete suggestions do we have ... to fix this problem together and it also means looking at our homeowners groups and saying ok, what can we be doing."

Santos noted that he has been pushing to hire more officers to get the number of sworn officers up to 100. In its presentation on Monday, January 14, 2008, Police Chief Attarian stated his goal of hiring nine more sworn officers and six more non-sworn staff. In response to concerns about auto thefts, Santos said that the San Leandro Police Department will begin using a camera on police vehicles that can automatically read license plate numbers and check them against a stolen vehicle database as a police car is driving through the city.

Bo Johansen of the Mulford Gardens Improvement Association suggested that the neighborhood associations organize together as the Associated Homeowners had done in the past to ensure that the residents of San Leandro "can tell the city what we want."

One resident complained about city's lack of responsiveness to her concerns about speeding in her neighborhood. She also said she didn't feel safe having her children see movies at the theater. Assistant City Manager Hollister agreed, saying that he wouldn't let his teens go to the theater and explained that Madison Marquette and the City have been demanding more security at the theater. Another resident said that she goes to the theater weekly, but never sees a police officer at the theater come out of his car.

Santos offered to walk residents' neighborhoods at their request at any time as often as requested. Holmes basically ended the meeting, stating, "I think everyone in the room knows that crime doesn't happen when there are people around watching. It makes a huge difference if you'll get out and walk. Twice a day, get on your block. Find out who on your block is home during the day. Ask to schedule something with them. See if they can go on a regular basis....It means calling in, it means getting people on board, it means getting to know your neighbors better, it means getting more involved. And every single person in the room here has some responsibility for that...Every single one of us has to do something. Paying for more police is extremely expensive and does a very poor job of deterring crime unless the cop happens to drive by at the right time...Tony didn't create this crime. This crime's been going on longer than he's been Mayor. He has little ability to affect it, in my opinion. Adding six more policemen, according to the stats the FBI has...does not make a significant difference in how much crime you have. It has a huge amount to do with how many people are out, how many people are involved in their community and know what's going on."

Many in the audience left frustrated by what they felt was Mayor Santos' failure to seriously address their concerns and in some cases being dismissive and even condescending. One resident also said that the Mayor came across as rude a few times while another left the meeting "disgusted."

Posted by Mike Katz-Lacabe at January 18, 2008 9:57 PM | TrackBack

Tony Santos is a bumbling senile old man who's way out of touch with San Leandro. A packed room of folks telling him their concerns, and him refusing to listen.

Santos challenged the crowd, "What are YOU going to do about it (crime)?" But without his willingness to acknowledge it's a problem worthy of city time, attention and resources--it sounds like he's saying, "That's YOUR problem, not mine." And that's what really pissed people off.

I've proposed an anti-crime messaging strategy, and web site enhancements to get the community more involved. Let's see if he takes them to heart. I've also been suggested we hold community worksessions to come up with new policies for city crime prevention as well as HOAs sharing best practices for neighborhood watch/crime prevention.

Thanks for chronicling this Mike--you do a great job. Since the SL Times sucks so bad, it's nice to have some real journalism in town.


Posted by: Frank Lynn at January 19, 2008 9:13 AM
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