The Santa Barbara Police Department had more officers on the streets and fewer calls from the public in 2013, but it actually took longer for police to respond this year.
Even though average times were slower overall, Police Chief Cam Sanchez said top-priority calls — for incidents that could result in injury or death — had faster response times in 2013.
He said it took police an average of 5.8 minutes to respond to a priority-one call, an improvement over last year's 6.2 minutes.
“We’re doing much better,” Sanchez said in a monthly report to the City Council.
Meanwhile, he said, violent crime declined in 2013, although there were more aggravated assaults and homicides.
In 2013, there have been 308 aggravated assaults and four homicides, including the case of Mallory Rae Dies, a 27-year-old pedestrian who was struck by an alleged DUI driver who then fled the crash scene in downtown Santa Barbara. She died of her injuries five days later. Raymond Morua, 32, a former aide to Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, has been charged with murder in the collision.
Sanchez said SBPD has tried to rein in the city's burglary problem, which was “quite a challenge” last year. He has said that early release related to California's public-safety realignment has contributed to the increase in property crime.
For more than six years, the vast majority of vehicle burglaries have been from unlocked or running vehicles, some with the keys left in them. There have been 457 burglaries as of Tuesday, which is below last year’s total of 580.
Sanchez had better news on the community policing front.
The restorative policing program has helped place a few hundred homeless people in housing, reunited dozens with families, and helped many more find programs and services to make the transition off the streets.
Supervisor Sgt. Ed Olsen said some tranisents are resistant to services, but the program’s officers and social workers never stop trying. They make thousands of follow-up visits every year, he said.
“These are lifers," Olsen said. "They are going to need help for the rest of their lives in some fashion."
In its first two years, he said, the restorative court has helped 171 clients — clients who had been responsible for more than 6,000 police service calls previously.
“You can imagine the man hours involved,” he said, adding that 52 of the program's graduates have gone six months without any new arrests or citations.
Twenty-five people were housed permanently and there were 119 placements in different programs throughout California, he added.
With limited resources locally, he said there can be some benefit to sending these individuals elsewhere if it stops them from reverting back to their problem behaviors.
“We don’t send anybody anywhere without having a good plan in place to get them there,” he said.
Sanchez said police departments from around the country have been visiting SBPD to see how the restorative policing program works.
The SBPD also opened a community policing center at Franklin Neighborhood Center, which is a hub for beat coordinators and Lower Eastside residents. It’s still a pilot program, but residents are already asking about putting one on the Westside.
Sanchez said he even plans to hold office hours there next year.
SBPD is in “great shape” for staffing, with 143 officers, he said. The City Council has authorized over-hiring to keep the department fully staffed, and Sanchez said several future officers are going through academies right now. According to department data, SBPD had 141 officers in January 2012 and 138 by January 2013.
There are still vacancies in dispatch, and there always have been, Sanchez said.
Santa Barbara is not unique in that, since the job is stressful and many people discover they aren’t a good fit for it, he said.
“Dispatchers are hard to find and keep," he said. "Mostly keep."