While some types of crime are on the rise in Morgan Hill in the last year, the 2016 MHPD Annual Report shows the city remains safe, as the most serious categories of offenses are in decline.
And while Morgan Hill, like other cities and counties in California, is challenged by recent state reforms that make it harder for local jurisdictions to keep potentially violent suspects in check, Police Chief David Swing said the local department is making strides in keeping the community safe by increasing engagement with the public and being more proactive in identifying criminals and preventing threats.
“The report illustrates the work being done, and the quality and quantity of work being done by the men and women in this department, and I’m very proud and honored to be able to lead them,” Swing said.
The latest MHPD Annual Report was distributed to the public last week. The document gives an overview of what federal authorities classify as “part 1” crimes—which as a whole are decreasing in Morgan Hill—and it lists some of the department’s accomplishments, new initiatives and other statistics.
Part 1 crimes “are defined as offenses that are more serious crimes by nature and/or volume,” the report states. These include theft, vehicle theft, burglary and violent crimes such as homicide and assault. In Morgan Hill, theft makes up the highest category (49 percent, or 418 incidents) of all Part 1 crimes, followed by assault (22 percent). Burglary and vehicle theft each account for 13 percent of the local Part 1 volume. Robbery makes up about 3 percent of the total, or 21 incidents. There were no homicides in 2016, and three reported incidents of rape.
Most cities in Santa Clara County, including Morgan Hill, have seen a decrease in Part 1 crimes when 2016 totals are compared to those of 2015, the report states.
“We enjoy a relatively low crime rate in Morgan Hill,” Swing said. “Our residents are served by a group of dedicated professionals, many of whom live in South County—so they have a personal commitment” to local safety.
However, Swing added it is “concerning” to see increases in residential burglaries, which are also on the rise in other Bay Area cities. These incidents are up to 111 in 2016 from 100 in 2015, but are down from a peak of 164 incidents in 2013.
Another growing trend in Morgan Hill is the recovery of firearms from criminal suspects, Swing said. So far in 2017, officers have confiscated 11 guns as evidence during traffic stops or searches. That’s on pace to significantly surpass the 19 firearms recovered in 2015, and 18 confiscated in 2016. In 2014, MHPD officers recovered seven firearms from “people arrested for other crimes.”
“Clearly, the increased presence of firearms is a real threat to our community, and to our officers’ safety,” Swing said.
And in yet another growing trend, more suspects arrested in Morgan Hill are from other communities, Swing said. In 2016, he said more than half the people arrested here list their residence in another city.
Reforms make it harder
Some new state laws approved in recent years make it more difficult for local police departments to reduce crime in California. These include Proposition 47, which was approved by the voters in 2014 and reclassified certain nonviolent felonies as misdemeanors.
This requires local police to issue citations for theft suspects, for example, who would have “earned a trip to county jail” before Prop 47 was approved, Swing said.
The chief listed two of many examples of how this has impacted safety in Morgan Hill in recent months. In an incident earlier this year, officers contacted a suspect in possession of drugs—once a felony, but a misdemeanor under Prop 47. An officer gave the suspect a ticket and let him go.
A little while later, the suspect walked into downtown Morgan Hill, and tried to snatch a purse from a customer who was eating on the outdoor patio of a busy restaurant, Swing said. A witness gave chase to the suspect, and police caught up to him and made an arrest.
“Pre-Prop 47, that person having lunch in Morgan Hill doesn’t experience the theft of her purse,” because officers would have detained him for the drug possession, Swing said.
Another state law that has allegedly made it easier for criminals is AB109, an effort passed in 2011 to reduce the state’s prison population by moving repeat, nonviolent offenders to county jails. Many law enforcement experts have argued this law has placed more criminals—including some violent ones—back on the streets.
Less is known about the impact of Proposition 57, which was just approved by voters in November 2016. This proposition makes it easier for judges to release nonviolent criminals on parole.
Swing added that at least one study, conducted by Stanford University, ties a statewide increase in auto thefts to these state reforms. In Morgan Hill, police are seeing more vehicle thefts, as well as stolen cars being used in other crimes.
Traffic and other numbers
Traffic accidents, often overlooked as a public safety issue, increased by a big margin in Morgan Hill in 2016. Police and emergency personnel responded to 283 accidents in 2016, compared to 209 in both 2014 and 2015, according to the annual report.
Strategies to decrease the number of collisions, implemented by the MHPD traffic unit and patrol officers, include “directed traffic enforcement, responding to traffic complaints, community outreach campaigns and safe driving education,” the report reads.
The annual report also notes that 50 percent of all police reports filed by MHPD officers result in an arrest. That percentage is higher than Gilroy, Palo Alto, Campbell and other similar size cities in Santa Clara County, according to the report.
Engagement is key
The 2016 annual report touts the effectiveness of some new programs instituted at MHPD in the last couple years.
One of these is the reinstatement of the department’s Street Crimes Team, which was approved by the council earlier this year. This unit has just recently sprung back into action, tackling gang activity and violent crime, as well as “quality of life issues throughout the community,” Swing said.
The Street Crimes Unit is also addressing local homelessness, Swing added. These officers will work with other local agencies and nonprofits to connect homeless people to services that can eventually move them into long-term housing.
The report lists other community engagement efforts MHPD has participated in over the last year: Shop With A Cop, Safe Trick or Treat, Coffee With a Cop (next installment coming up May 19 at Peet’s on Cochrane Road) and vacation home checks performed by the department’s Volunteers In Policing program.