Petaluma police, 200 residents talk crime

A standing-room only crowd of more than 200 people showed up Wednesday night in Petaluma to a town hall meeting for a communitywide discussion on crime.

The crowd seemed generally supportive of its police department, raising concerns over issues including graffiti, drug sales and problems associated with the homeless.

Chief Pat Williams, on the job in Petaluma for about 18 months, reassured citizens of Sonoma County's second-largest city that they live in a safe town, despite some perceptions of rampant crime.

While property crimes increased about 20 percent last year compared with 2012, violent crimes have remained steady, while the overall crime rate — the number of crimes per capita — is generally well below record rates in the 1990s.

Since 2009, major crimes have dropped by about 13 percent, he said.

"Over the long term, we still have remained a relatively safe community," Williams said. "We don't have drive-by shootings. We don't have people standing on the street corner selling dope."

Residents were encouraged to report even small problems to their neighborhood beat officers, whose contact information was distributed.

Sgt. Ed Crosby explained meetings like Wednesday's are "market research" for police, who want input on what matters to residents so officers can be assigned to high-priority problems.

"You know where the drug houses are," he told residents of the southeast Petaluma beat he supervises. "You know where people may be engaging in prostitution. You guys know it better than anybody else."

"No problem is too small," said Sgt. Ken Savano to his assembled beat residents.

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