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City Observer: Sept. 14, 2016

Santa Clara 11th Safest City in U.S.

Despite the impression created by big news stories and some reality TV shows, crime levels have been steadily dropping over the past twenty years. Santa Clara ranks as the 11th safest city in the U.S., according to the latest report by municipal data collection and analysis company Niche (niche.com). California is also among the safest states in the U.S. with eleven of its cities among the top 25 safest cities nationally,

Niche factors in its analysis both violent crime – such as murder, assault, rape and robbery – and property crime – such as burglary, larceny, and car theft. Per 100,000 people, Santa Clara’s annual violent crime amounts to 134 instances and property crimes to 2,708.

Independent Operations Study: SCPD “Well-Managed”

A 2015 study of Santa Clara Police Department operations by the independent Center for Public Safety Management (CPSM) backs up Niche’s analysis. CPSM reports that violent crime in Santa Clara is one-third of the state average and property crime is slightly under the state average, based on FBI’s Uniform Crime Rate (UCR) data (only one of the factors used in Niche’s analysis). The findings were presented Jan. 2016.

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CPSM’s exhaustive analysis of police operations staffing, workload, special event planning, and technology use found, overall, “the Santa Clara Police Department to be a well-managed organization.” Santa Clara PD has fewer police calls, but “is far more responsive to its community’s needs than some other departments” and “deploys more resources and spends more time on calls for service … than average.”

Stadium Has “No Impact on Police Resources”

The study looked at the impact of stadium events on patrol operations, comparing event days and non-event days, and found “no appreciable difference in workload.” In other words, police service remained stable for regular operations; resources weren’t diverted to handle stadium events.

“CPSM was highly impressed with the planning efforts of SCPD to deal with stadium events, especially given … that the stadium has been in operation for one year,” the report said. “The Special Events Unit is to be commended for its efforts. Planning for and staffing major events in such a venue is a complex and demanding task made all the more [so] by the size of the city and specifically, the police department.”

Two Key PD Needs: More People and Up-to-Date, In-House Information Technology

CPSM recommended increasing PD manpower by adding new 19 positions and un-freezing five, at the same time “civilianizing” jobs where the duties don’t require the skills of sworn officers. The recommendations include 14 additional officers, three of which would come from eliminating three sergeant positions. The total cost would be $4.1 million

Currently, Santa Clara has fewer police officers per capita than average, and they work longer hours than average, according to the CPSM.

Since 2004, Santa Clara City Councils have reduced Police Department budgets, or kept them virtually flat in most years, when comparisons are done using 2016 dollars. The PD budget grew five percent or more in only five out of 12 years: 2006-07, 2009-10, 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16. The most significant growth was in 2014-15 (11 percent) and 2015-16 (18 percent). The City Council increased the PD budget by slightly more than one percent for the 2016-17 year. Between 80 and 85 percent of the PD budget is salaries and benefits.

In 2004 SCPD had 228 full-time staff. That number declined to 219 in 2011 and only reached the 2004 staffing level again this year, with 231 authorized positions in the 2016-17 Santa Clara budget. It takes about 18 months to bring a new police officer on board, and only slightly less than that for other positions such as dispatchers and records specialists.

In the Jan. 26 agenda report that accompanied CPSM’s findings, Santa Clara Police Chief Michael Sellers wrote, “In immediate response to the preliminary report from CPSM, the Department formed a Recruiting Committee in October, 2015 to evaluate existing hiring practices and implement new practices with the goal of reducing recruiting costs, expediting processes and yielding more well-qualified candidates.”

Other significant needs the CPSM highlighted were information technology and support – an estimated $3 million investment.

Many PD systems are “antiquated” or no longer supported. New tech would increase efficiency with mobile field reporting systems, computer-aided dispatching, and more scalable and user-friendly records management systems.

In addition to new technology, the department also needs dedicated IT support, said CPSM. “While the city contract with a private vendor for IT services may work well during normal business hours and therefore meet the needs of most other city departments, public safety’s 24/7 schedule does not lend itself to such service. The creation of an IT unit within the police department is essential.”

CPSM’s report is at santaclaraca.gov/government/council-meetings/view-online-meetings attached to the 1/26/2016 meeting agenda.

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