The San Ramon City Council joined police chief Joe Gorton to talk about the city's crime rate increase last year, police staffing levels, the planned new emergency dispatch program and other department updates Tuesday evening.
"For 2015, everything pretty much went up, which is not a great thing in the criminal world," Gorton said during the regular council meeting at City Hall. "Some of this is due to our population increase ... it was to be expected. But, as you can see, the workloads are increasing."
San Ramon's overall crime rate experienced a 7% increase in 2015, according to Gorton, noting a 20% increase in property crimes in addition to rises in other individual categories of reported crimes, including robbery (13 total incidents), larceny and theft (654), arson (nine), aggravated assaults (10), and rape (four).
The city did see a drop in burglaries, with 146 incidents reported last year compared to 209 burglaries in 2014 and 171 in 2013, the police chief said. There were no murders in San Ramon again last year.
City statistics showed that in 2015, officer-initiated patrol events increased by 12%, alarm responses increased 10% and calls for service increased 6%. The data also showed the number of arrests made last year dropped to 602 overall -- 5% less than the 637 arrests made in 2014.
"We're a very, very, very safe community, even with our property crimes increase," Gorton said. "However, there has been significant increases in the entire state of California in property crimes."
"With passage of Prop 47, we've seen the property crimes increase," the police chief added, referencing the November 2014 proposition affected the lengths and degrees of felony sentencing.
Councilman Phil O'Loane questioned the actual relation between Prop 47 and San Ramon's recent crime trends.
"I find it difficult for folks to say 'This is a result of a proposition that the public looked past in 2014' when, in fact, it's the same rate as when the proposition didn't exist for two years prior to that," O'Loane said.
"It's just not a valid statement to be made, from my perspective," he added. "We're going to be asked at times to make decisions based on what folks say about the crime increases, and there's no basis for that being the reason for crime increase. People involved in public policy must keep an eye on it, because we don't know why the crime is going up, necessarily."
Councilman Dave Hudson responded, stating "It's very difficult to make a decision based on short-term changes. The problem is, up until two years ago, it (crime rate) was going down, and then you see this spike ... What really needs to be watched is the next one that says 2016."
"If it stays flat, then everything you're saying is correct. But if it jumps ... then all of a sudden, yes, you do need to call it what it is, something caused these things to start up," Hudson said. "Before we say it's one thing, let's be sure. 2016 is going to be very important."
Describing other 2015 police data, Gorton said San Ramon saw an increase in citations issued, traffic collisions and crashes involving injury. He noted that the most frequent moving violations included speeding, improper turns, stoplights and signs, and other cellphone-related infractions such as texting while driving.
The number of driving under the influence (DUI) arrests increased by 9%, totaling in at 251, while DUI crashes dropped by 3% to a total of 39 incidents.
"The officers have spent a large portion of their time trying to move that number downwards," Gorton said. "I think we're being effective in that area; hopefully we can continue to bring that down."
In its continuing efforts to fight crime, the San Ramon Police Department (SRPD) established a Community Relations and Crime Prevention Division in 2015 that has been staffed by Lt. Denton Carlson in attempts to address the property crimes, Gorton noted.
SRPD has also worked on consolidating emergency dispatch services with the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District, the police chief said. Last year, the department welcomed new technology resources, including four patrol cars that contain automatic license plate readers and two more on the way.
Gorton and the councilmen discussed the new ways the department is combating crime through social media, noting that the SRPD has a Facebook page and also communicates with residents using the website Nextdoor, where neighbors in the same city can discuss a variety of topics, including crime.
Councilman Harry Sachs asked if the department could research trends in the future by taking data from the neighborhoods represented on Nextdoor to see if the social media presence correlates to crime reduction.
As for future challenges, Gorton noted that there will be an increase in service demands as the population grows, as well as service demands from the planned City Center Bishop Ranch retail complex. While that increase in service demands will require more officers, he acknowledged routine staffing changes due to retirements and injuries will also affect how many new staff members are needed.
Gorton said he hopes to add 10 sworn officer positions while increasing civilian staffing by five positions through filling vacancies and a new position within the next five years.
In other business:
* The council received an update on the Bollinger Canyon Road widening project.
The city recently executed a right-of-way agreement that allowed utility relocation work to occur between Sunset Drive and Interstate 680.
What is now left of the project is the road widening portion, city officials said. The phase focuses the Bollinger Canyon stretch from Market Place to the freeway, creating four travel lanes total in each direction.
The project also includes intersection improvements. At the intersection of Sunset Drive, going westbound toward Chevron, the city will create two turn lanes which will help increase capacity.
On Sunset coming out to Bollinger Canyon, the city will add an extra lane to increase turning movements coming out of the intersection. Going eastbound from Bollinger Canyon to Camino Ramon, there's about 300 feet of vehicle-stacking distance that will be increased to 450 feet. Westbound, the single turning lane will be turned into two turning lanes.
* The city honored Harvey Riggs for his years of service on the Transportation Advisory Committee, with staff presenting Riggs with a personalized street sign as recognition.
* The council also recognized Pine Valley Middle School seventh-graders Maximiano Gonzalez, Chris Hansen and Kevin Barthol for taking third-place in the San Ramon Valley's Street Smarts youth video contest. The trio created a PSA-style film titled, "5 Eazy Steps to Stay Safe," which focused on highlighting street and school safety.
* Public works director Maria Fernier introduced the council to Ron Allen, the new city's new associate engineer.
Division manager Jeff Gault introduced other new Public Works Division employees James Cauthren, Lance Graf, John Hodgers, Maria Lusherovich, Schoot Rennicks, Gary Savell, Robert Sikes and David Watson.