Thefts of catalytic converters and high-end bicycles, gun crimes, narcotics incidents and reckless vehicle sideshows are on the rise in Morgan Hill, according to police.
But many of the post-pandemic trends—which include a rise in violent crime—are starting to level off with earlier years, Morgan Hill Police command staff told the city council in a wide-ranging 2021 crime report Dec. 1. Police Chief Shane Palsgrove added that many of the recent upward crime trends seen in Morgan Hill have occurred throughout the region, and even the nation.
Even though nine full-time officer positions are currently vacant throughout the department, new programs such as the Flock security camera network and mental health initiatives have helped lessen the burden, according to MHPD.
“We are not immune to rising regional patterns of violent crimes, including gun crimes and narcotics,” Palsgrove said. “As Morgan Hill emerges from the shelter-in-place and growth of commercial activity, there has been an uptick in violent assaults. But the numbers are trending at an average rate compared to earlier years.”
From January to September this year, police have responded to 44 reports of aggravated assault in Morgan Hill, according to Palsgrove’s presentation to the council. In the full year in 2020, there were 38 aggravated assaults, which is up from 33 such incidents in Morgan Hill in 2019.
Burglaries and motor vehicles thefts went up in 2020 as well, with 149 and 177 such incidents, respectively, police said. Those numbers are up from 102 burglaries and 94 vehicle thefts in 2019.
MHPD Capt. Ray Ramos told the council that vehicle sideshows and violent crime “continue to be a drain on resources” within the department. In recent months in Morgan Hill, officers have responded to at least six sideshows and prevented four such incidents “from becoming a problem,” Ramos said.
Sideshows are large gatherings of vehicles that often block public roadways while performing burnouts and other stunts.
Ramos added that MHPD officers so far in 2021 have removed 124 illegal firearms off the streets. “Production of ghost guns is a problem,” Ramos said, noting that MHPD has arrested two suspects for production of unregistered firearms in the last 18 months.
Police have also responded to more calls for narcotics—particularly opioids and methamphetamine—over the last year-plus, and officers have saved the lives of seven overdose victims by administering Narcan, Ramos said. All officers, as well as the city’s public works employees, have become trained to administer Narcan, a nasal medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
From January to September this year, 89 vehicles have been reported stolen in Morgan Hill. But those numbers don’t reflect all the stolen vehicles recovered through the installation of the Flock security camera system at public locations throughout the city.
Since installing the cameras Sept. 1, police have recovered 51 stolen vehicles and arrested 66 crime suspects tied to alerts issued by the security cameras, according to authorities.
MHPD entered into a two-year contract—preceded by a 30-day pilot program—with Flock Safety to install a series of fixed automated license plate reading cameras throughout town. Twenty-five Flock cameras are installed at 16 locations in Morgan Hill, constantly capturing passing vehicles’ license plates and alerting authorities to stolen and wanted vehicles. The cameras are able to capture the make model, state, color, aesthetics and full, partial or missing license plate of passing cars.
MHPD Capt. Mario Ramirez said the Flock system “continues to be a force multiplier for our organization, helping us identify stolen vehicles and felony vehicles, along with identifying those vehicles associated with the commission of a crime.”
In some recent arrests initiated by alerts from the Flock cameras, MHPD officers have recovered stolen property, burglary tools and evidence of other property crimes, police said. During a Sept. 14 stop on a stolen vehicle that triggered a Flock alert at Tilton Avenue, officers found five stolen catalytic converters in the vehicle. That was just after the driver led officers on a brief pursuit, which ended when the suspect collided head on with a Santa Clara County Sheriff’s vehicle.
The city’s contract with Flock Safety costs $62,500 per year, Ramirez said.
Mental health response
Recent and upcoming programs to assist MHPD in responding to the growing volume of mental health-related calls have also helped lessen the burden on patrol officers and detectives, Palsgrove added.
The Mobile Crisis Response Team was initiated in Morgan Hill earlier this year. The program is a partnership with Santa Clara County Behavioral Health, in which an MHPD detective and a licensed mental health clinician work as a team one day a week to respond to people suffering mental health crises in the field.
“The team provides crisis intervention, referrals to support services and follow-up,” says a MHPD staff report.
By early 2022, the department hopes to implement a new Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT), which will place a mental health clinician in MHPD for 40 hours a week. The clinician will work directly with specially trained officers to respond to mental health situations reported to law enforcement, says the staff report.
Palsgrove said the PERT initiative is funded by a grant from the county.