Traffic accidents, crimes with guns have seen regional rise in occurrences

Published in the July 5 – July 18, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Staff Report

Image result for David Swing

MHPD Chief David Swing

Morgan Hill is an overall safe city compared to other cities in Santa Clara County thanks to its proactive policing and community partnerships, according to the 2016 Morgan Hill Police Department’s annual report released in May.

“Our police department is very fortunate to have great community support and also the support of a great city council and mayor,” said Police Chief David at the May Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce breakfast.

“Part 1” crimes in most Santa Clara County cities have decreased when the 2016 total are compared to 2015 totals. These offenses are defined as those that are more serious by nature such as vehicle theft, rape, homicide, arson, robbery, theft, burglary and assault. Morgan Hill saw a decrease in Part 1 crimes for 2016. Swing attributes this to various reasons including proactive policing and the partnerships built with the community.

In 2016, theft at 49 percent was by far the highest number of these crimes reported, followed by assault at 22 percent, and burglary and vehicle theft, both at 13 percent.

The city conducted a survey in January with nearly 550 online responses. They were used to help MHPD develop priorities for the coming year. The top current public safety issues were identified as home burglaries, theft and illegal fireworks.

In 2016, property crime overall was down even though residential burglaries were up. These crimes “tear at the fabric of someone’s feeling of safety,” Swing said. “The survey results show us theft and crime in general are two of the issues the community feels pertains to safety. It’s important for us to know and understand that so we can respond accordingly.”

The use of illegal fireworks is also an issue of public safety the police have addressed. The Morgan Hill City Council voted to change the municipal codes to triple fines for illegal firework use, most of this seen during the Independence Day celebrations, he said.

“We look to our officers working on the Fourth of July in partnership with our fire department to curtail the aerial fireworks,” he said. “Our goal is that the only aerial fireworks we should see are the ones at the sports center.”
The city council recently provided the funds to reinstate the Street Crimes enforcement team to address issues of gang intelligence and suppression and long-term neighborhood quality of life issues as well as safety for the homeless. This will help ensure Morgan Hill remains a safe place for all to live, Swing told citizens attending the breakfast.

“Something else we’re looking forward to do in the coming months is to roll out a package theft program where we’re going to do some stings for package theft,” he said. “With the increase of Internet commerce, package theft is increasing.”

Traffic issues were another item included in the 2016 public safety report. Traffic congestion, distracted driving, road work, weather, recklessness and speeding all play a role in collisions. Morgan Hill saw an increase in traffic collisions last year compared to the previous three years. In 2016, there were 283 reported accidents compared to 209 in both 2014 and 2015.

The MHPD’s Traffic Unit and patrol officers are working to decrease this number of accidents with strategies such as direct traffic enforcement, community outreach campaigns and safe driving education.

Funding public safety is a major component of the annual city’s budget. The city has limited resources since Morgan Hill has the lowest amount of tax revenue per capita in the county of about $430 per person.

“How does that impact us and why is that a police matter? Well, our workload is one of the highest in the county and it’s a workload based on 911 calls per officer,” Swing said. “Our officers are working hard. They’re dedicated public safety professionals, and to that end the amount of 911 calls that we respond to are certainly among the highest in the county.”

Swing also spotlighted the arrest rate per officer compared with other cities in the county. Morgan Hill for the past two years has made 51 arrests per officer. Comparative agencies are about 31 to 34 arrests.

“I highlight this for a reason and that is in contrast to statewide trends. Statewide, law enforcement arrests have plummeted by 25 percent,” he said. “That’s not the case in your community. Why is that? It’s because officers in this community work diligently and practice proactive policing. We partner with our community to investigate crimes and make arrests, and we are proactive in ensuring we contact folks who are committing crimes in our town.”

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Criminal activities involving guns in the region have seen a rise in occurrences, Swing said.

“I can tell you in my 20 years here in Morgan Hill I have seen more reports in our daily logs of guns being taken off the street whether it’s on someone’s person, out of a car or near where they were,” he said. “As a chief, the one who is responsible for the safety of the men and women in my department, that’s concerning to me. Also as someone who is responsible for the safety of the people in our community, that’s concerning to me.”

Looking to the future, one of the challenges MHPD faces is the ability to recruit qualified officer candidates, Swing said.

“We have a complex and challenging job. Our officers go from social workers to parents, therapists, enforcers, athletes, deescalation experts, psychologists and more,” he said. “And it happens from call to call, not just from day to day. So we need today and tomorrow the best and the brightest to do this job because it truly hits at the fabric of the safety of our communities.”