“We knew these things were going to happen,” Cantando said. “There was a tax measure on the ballot a while ago, and it wasn’t passed. We are seeing the repercussions of that in increased crime and response times.”
During the meeting, which was meant to improve communication between police command staff and the residents they serve, Cantando revealed that compared to the same time last year, violent crime and burglaries in the city have jumped 40 percent and thefts have more than doubled. The department’s response times have risen to an average of 10 minutes, 40 seconds from eight minutes in 2010, and total arrests are down 20 percent.
A decreased budget, lack of staff and the release of criminals back into the community have created what Cantando described as a perfect storm for the city of 104,000.
The APD is working with 94 sworn officers, 35 less than allocated, and no non-sworn, community service officers, who were all laid off in 2009. Measure P, a half-cent sales tax intended to be dedicated to increasing police, was defeated by Antioch voters in 2010.
“It’s important for people to understand what is going on in the community,” Cantando said.
Numerous attendees addressed the chief with questions about crime in the city. Geneva Payne, a neighborhood watch block captain, physically shook as she urged the chief to do more to combat crime in the city.
“I live in this city, I work in this city, I love this city, but this is unacceptable,” Payne said.
The scheduled two-hour meeting lasted more than three hours, as residents lined up to personally address Cantando after it officially convened. Most questions centered on police response times, squatters and pending cases. “I was pleasantly surprised,” Cantando said. “The public asked great questions and had great suggestions and tips.”
Antioch resident Carlos Sweeney said he found the meeting informative, adding, “If we don’t get involved, we shouldn’t complain.”
Cantando believes staffing shortages have made the force reactive instead of proactive – a condition that must be reversed. And as staffing increases, the recidivism rate among criminals should decrease.
Over the next couple of months, the department will hire eight officers. Seven will be put on routine patrol and one will be designated for investigations. Cantando also said a reserve officers program will be implanted soon.
In the meantime, Cantando urged residents to join the APD’s Facebook page to stay informed about crime in the city. Since the meeting, the page has added 16 members to its group of 947.
He reminded residents they can now anonymously text tips to the police through the new TipSoft program by entering 274637 (“crimes”) in the place where phone numbers are usually entered when writing a text message, and “Antioch” in the body of the message.
Once the message is sent, the information is sent to a server in Canada, where the tipster is given a new identification number. Once that number is sent, the tipster can start entering the anonymous tip in the body of the text message.
Antioch residents can also receive real-time crime updates through e-mails from Crimereports.com, which is affiliated with the TipSoft Program. Residents who sign up at Crimereports.com will be sent e-mails or texts alerting them of a crime and the approximate location it occurred.
Members of the Antioch Crime Prevention Commission were available to residents to inquire about neighborhood watch groups. “These meetings are the reason I became a crime commissioner,” said Gregory Hayes. “After a while, you realize you are either part of the problem or part of the solution.”
Recruitment for new officers begins in a week or two. To apply, visit www.neogov.org. The next Coffee With the Cops meeting will be held in October.