After several years of sharp declines seen locally and nationally, crime appears to be on the rise in the Sacramento area, according to new statistics from law enforcement.
Violent crime and property crime each rose 7 percent in the city of Sacramento during the first six months of the year, compared with the same period in 2011. It's the first time in six years that the city has seen an uptick in crime.
Sacramento County's unincorporated neighborhoods and the city of Rancho Cordova, which is policed by sheriff's deputies under contract, combined saw an increase of 11 percent in violent crime and 6 percent in property crime. The Sheriff's Department had not reported an increase in crime since 2008.
So far in 2012, data from the two agencies show all types of crime tracked by the FBI have risen, with the exception of homicides. The Sacramento Police Department saw its largest spikes in car thefts and assaults, while assaults and rapes showed the biggest increases within the sheriff's jurisdiction.
Experts and local authorities said it is too early to tell whether the trend will stick. It's also too soon to know whether the Sacramento area is an anomaly: The FBI won't release nationwide data for the same time period for another few months, and a sampling of California agencies show mixed results.
Nonetheless, authorities have made note of the budding trend.
"You don't want this to get out of hand," said Tim Capron, a criminal justice professor at California State University, Sacramento. "Communities can fall apart pretty fast."
In the city of Sacramento, police saw sharp jumps in crime reports in Land Park, near the downtown railyard and in Del Paso Heights, according to a Bee review of data. That review included all types of crime reports, not just those tracked by the FBI.
Tahoe Park, Oak Park, east Sacramento and North Sacramento also saw increases in crime reports, while Natomas and Valley Hi saw continued declines.
The latest statistics mark a departure from a five-year trend of improvement. From 2006 to 2011, violent crime in the city of Sacramento dropped 40 percent and property crime fell 30 percent.
Police Department staffing has fallen during that same period. The agency hit an all-time high of about 800 sworn officers in 2008. There are now about 650, a decline of almost 20 percent, said police Capt. Mike Bray, who oversees the Criminal Intelligence Unit.
In the most recent round of budget cuts, 16 officers lost their jobs at the end of June. Another 31 vacant positions were axed.
Until this most recent reporting period, crime continued to fall in Sacramento city and county even as law enforcement made deep cuts. But Bray said the region now may be feeling the cumulative effect of those cuts, which have also hit parole and probation departments and social service agencies, such as those assisting the mentally ill.
He noted that officers are seeing many repeat offenders particularly juveniles caught breaking into homes and stealing cars who are back on the streets shortly after their arrest because of cuts to the juvenile detention system.
The department has "crime suppression teams" assigned to each of the city's three divisions, and continues to use crime analysis to assign resources, Bray said.
But he said low staffing levels and reductions in specialty and investigative teams have hamstrung the department's ability to move resources around as freely as it once did.
Arden Park couple add home security
In Sacramento County's Arden Park neighborhood, Carri Stokes, 34, said she noticed an uptick in crime so she and her husband spent the last month making improvements to their home, including adding an alarm system.
They have had items stolen off their porch, and neighbors' homes have been broken into. Her daughter's elementary school was locked down recently because of a nearby burglary.
And in June, sheriff's deputies swarmed the area after learning a man suspected of killing his wife was hiding in a home close by.
"It seems like every time I'm at a soccer game, people are talking about how crime has definitely increased in our neighborhood," Stokes said. "I can't even put a decent-looking plant on my front stoop without it being stolen. I have to put out the ugliest containers possible."
Sheriff's records show deputies took 71 crime reports in the Arden Park neighborhood during the first six months of this year, up 20 percent from the same period in 2011.
Stokes said she has called the Sheriff's Department to report suspicious people she suspects are casing the neighborhood but sees little response. She said she understands deputies are stretched, but lamented that they seem to be "more on the reactive than the proactive."
Charles Doss, manager of the gym at the Dr. Ephraim Williams Family Life Center in Oak Park, said his work with teens offers him a glimpse of their home lives and some possible explanations for the recent trends.
He hears kids talk of parents losing homes, of being short of food, of trying to help raise siblings. Despite his encouragement to live an honest life, Doss said he knows some of them commit crimes to help make ends meet. Inside the Family Life Center, 10 cellphones recently were stolen.
"It's not that I think they're looking to do that, but people are struggling," said Doss, who partners with the Sheriff's Activities League to give youth opportunities. "They (resort to) things, not understanding what the consequences will be."
Doss, 41, grew up in Los Angeles. But the streets here, he said, are tougher than ever.
"I just told the kids yesterday I'm saddened," he said. "I'm glad I'm not that age any more. It's three times as worse, the violence. Shooting somebody is nothing now."
Sheriff plans no dramatic changes
Deputy Jason Ramos, spokesman for the Sheriff's Department, said a few factors could be contributing to the six-month spike, including the state's realignment plan moving state offenders to the county level, which has put more pressure on local resources.
However, he said the Sheriff's Department likely won't make dramatic changes to its operations unless the trend continues.
"I don't think it's enough to create an alarmist mentality. Trends are going to go up and down a bit," he said. "But when you couple that with the fact we have to do more with less, it's something that's certainly on our radar."
For five years straight, crime has declined nationwide, though not at the same rate as in Sacramento, according to the FBI. From 2006 to 2011, violent crime nationally fell about 20 percent and property crime dropped about 15 percent, roughly half the city's figures.
Those who study crime trends have not settled on an explanation for that overall decline. Some argue that crime naturally ebbs and flows; others say it could be the result of smarter, more technologically savvy policing.
Most experts agree there is not an exact causal relationship between police staffing and crime, meaning a reduction in resources does not automatically cause an increase in crime. Whether there is a relationship between the economy and crime is a more debated question.
All told, there are many factors that contribute to crime rates, said Capron, the Sacramento State professor. "Crime really is a complex phenomenon," he said, with "multiple causes."
Capron said it is difficult to predict long-term trends based on six months of data, but that local authorities will be better able to judge where crime is headed in another six months.
In the meantime, he said, the involvement of local residents within their communities and with the police is critical.
Stokes, the Arden Park resident, said her neighbors have banded together to hire private security and that a fledgling neighborhood association is scheduled to meet for the first time Saturday.
As for all the money spent "securing the fortress," as her husband calls it, she said it offers them some peace of mind.
"It's one less thing we have to worry about," she said. "And if they steal plants off my front porch, those are replaceable."