The crime rate continues to plunge in Santa Rosa, reaching a 20-year-low in 2008.
Statistically speaking, a city resident in 1988 was more than twice as likely to be the victim of a property crime than a resident is now. Similar parallels for violent crime can?t be drawn because of classification changes in 2003, but since then the violent crime rate has dropped 27 percent despite a spike in homicides last year.
That comes as a surprise to some folks.
?I feel like it should be worse because of the economy,? said Maci Tuinstra of Santa Rosa. ?People might get desperate and commit crimes,? she said.
But crime rates have been dropping for decades nationally, and police are familiar with the trend.
?From a very broad perspective, it shows we?re moving in the right direction,? said Tom Schwedhelm, acting chief of the Santa Rosa Police Department. ?But it?s a communitywide effort with community awareness and outreach efforts in programs like neighborhood watch.?
The department?s statistics for 2008, which are being forwarded to state and federal authorities, show a 4.5percent drop in the violent crime rate in one year and a 3.3 percent decline in the property crime rate.
The crime rate is an expression of the number of crimes per 1,000 residents. But in Santa Rosa, the actual number crimes also has dropped significantly.
While the city population has increased 48 percent in 20 years, the total number of homicides, forcible rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, vehicle thefts and larcenies has decreased 34 percent, according to Police Department data.
Does that mean Santa Rosa is safer than it was 20 years ago? The answer may depend on several factors, including where you live and with whom you associate.
Police Sgt. Lisa Banayat also warned that the numbers could indicate trends other than a reduction in crime. They could also indicate a reduction in reporting.
?Whether there is less crime or less reporting is hard to say,? she said, adding that violent crimes were more likely to be reported than property crimes. ?We would like to think that property crime is down, but we can?t be sure. We know that fewer reports are coming in.?
The biggest decline over time has come in property offenses.
?A lot of it has to do with the fact that our staffing levels have finally come up over the last few years as a result of Measure O (the voter-approved sales tax), which is what it was in place for,? said Sgt. Mike Clark with the city?s property crimes unit. ?Other than the spikes in some strong-arm robberies we?ve been seeing, I think it?s just because we?ve been putting some more police officers on the streets.?
Schwedhelm said while general robbery rates are down, drug robberies have increased. And those crimes can be hard to combat, he said.
?It?s a challenging crime to investigate,? Schwedhelm said. ?The people involved are already involved in illegal activity and don?t necessarily want to cooperate with us.?
The data is what Santa Rosa police will report to the FBI for the Uniform Crime Report, an annual national study on the occurrence of homicides, forcible rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, vehicle thefts and larcenies.
The data is used to compare cities. Information for other cities? crime rates in 2008 is not available as the report has not yet been published.