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Report shows certain property crimes on the increase

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

The Claremont Police Department has issued its annual tally of the city’s crime data, showing violent crimes remained unchanged from the previous year, while some property offenses have increased significantly.

Claremont Police Chief Shelly Vander Veen detailed the 2020 Uniform Crime Reporting data during two presentations, the first at the city council meeting last week and then again during the police commission meeting last night. The UCR report includes offenses known as part one crimes including homicide, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, theft, auto theft and arson.

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted crime data across the board. With schools closed and residents telecommuting or just out of work, people were home much of the year, which discouraged certain criminal activity. At the same time, the largely empty business districts, including the Village, provided opportunities for crime.

The unprecedented departure of most of the students and staff of the Claremont Colleges resulted in 76 percent fewer part one crimes on Claremont’s college campuses and a seven percent decrease in such crimes citywide. This closure also presented a data reporting issue that could skew the results, so for much of her presentation Chief Vander Veen focused on the crime stats for the city excluding the Colleges.

Overall, part one crimes were down for the entire city, with 762 reported in 2020 compared with 828 in 2019. However, with the stats for the Colleges removed, crime in Claremont increased 15 percent, reversing a four-year, 21 percent decrease in part one crimes.

It is important to note that even with the increase this year, there are far fewer crimes taking place in Claremont than a generation ago. A chart of historical data going back to 1985 shows crime peaked in Claremont in 1993, with 1,903 part one crimes. The two other worst years were 1992 with 1,781 part one crimes and 1992 with 1,697.  Even with some peaks and valleys, crime has been on a downward trend ever since with the three lowest years being 2019 with 826, 2009 with 879 and 2011 with 887. Over that same period of time Claremont’s population increased by about 3,000 people, so the crime rate per 1,000 residents is even lower than shown by the raw data.

There were 49 violent crimes—murder, rape, robbery and assault—reported in 2020, which is the exact same number reported in 2019.

While murder is rare in Claremont, there was one in 2020 when Masoud Bitarafan was arrested in the drowning death of a 39-year-old male in a pool in north Claremont. There was an increase in rapes with eight reported in 2020, three more than a year ago. There were 20 robberies reported and 18 assaults, both of which are similar to the previous year.

Historically, property crimes comprise the largest percentage of part one crimes in Claremont and that remained true in 2020 with nearly 93 percent of the city’s total being burglary, theft, auto theft and arson. There were 662 property crimes reported in 2020 compared with 578 in 2019, a nearly 15 percent increase

Twenty-nine percent, 208 reports, were vehicle related burglaries and thefts. Police reported a significant increase in vehicle thefts, 72 in 2020 a 132 percent increase from the 31 in 2019. Thefts from unlocked vehicles increased 41 percent from 59 in 2019 to 83 in 2020, while auto burglaries were down five percent from 132 in 2019 to 125 in 2020.

Analysis of the reports on auto burglaries indicates that a number involved laptops, purses and backpacks located in plain sight, with most incidents occurring during the day, according to Chief Vander Veen. Auto burglaries involve some type of forced entry such as breaking a window to enter the vehicle, which differentiates them from thefts.

“We continue, as we do every year, to remind residents to remove valuables from their vehicles when left unattended,” she said.

Eighty-three percent of vehicle thefts occurred in driveways or on the street in front of single-family homes and multi-family complexes, while just 13 percent were in commercial parking lots.

Catalytic converters thefts

One crime trend in 2020 has been the significant increase catalytic converters thefts, up more than 2000 percent from the previous year. The converters contain rare and precious metals that thieves sell to scrap or recycling yards.

“It only takes a minute to have someone go underneath your car and remove the catalytic converter using a battery operated Sawzall. This crime trend was a contributing factor to the increase of thefts in the city,” Chief Vander Veen said.

The police department is currently working with a local tow company to provide a catalytic converter theft prevention event for Claremont residents sometime in April. During the free public event the vehicle’s license plate number would be etched on the converter to make it easier for police to identify a victim if the converter is recovered.

On a positive note, there was a 38 percent decrease in residential burglaries in 2020, which was likely tied to the significant portion of the year that most homes were occupied due to stay at home orders. Before the pandemic residential burglaries had declined about 15 percent annually since in 2016 when there were 198.

However, there was a 40 percent increase in commercial burglaries from 77 in 2019 to 108 in 2020, including 64 businesses, 20 storage facilities 16 detached garages and eight schools.

“To the credit of your department and to residents who were observing people stealing the converters I believe you made some arrests relevant to that?” Councilmember Corey Calaycay asked during the meeting.

“That is an crucial part of our crime prevention program, the assistance from our community. We did arrest several catalytic converter thieves from observations of community members who quickly called it in and officers responded,” Chief Vander Veen said.

“I would like to thank the chief and the entire department for working really hard in a clearly imperfect world and with a lot of difficult constraints. I am sure it must be frustrating to see the same familiar faces and issue citation and release again and again. I can imagine that must be difficult, and I appreciate the professionalism of our department, it’s an incredible team,” Mayor Jennifer Stark said.

The police department utilizes this data to track crime trends and better manage resources as well as to provide crime information to patrol officers so they can concentrate their efforts in areas of criminal activity.

“In concluding my report I want to recognize the employees of the Claremont Police Department who are truly committed to this community as well as their primary mission of keeping this community safe,” Chief Vander Veen said.

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