Residents of Elk Grove’s East Franklin area gave city and police officials an earful last week during a community meeting at Toby Johnson Middle School, following a spate of violence that has unnerved many in this Sacramento suburb.
The impromptu two-hour meeting brought demands from some residents for the city to hire more police officers. Others urged neighbors to install surveillance cameras and speak up about suspicious activity.
Michael Jones, president of the Laguna Greens Neighborhood Watch, urged more people to report crimes to the police.
He attributed the lack of community involvement in public safety issues to cultural backgrounds that may hold some people back from reporting crimes. Non-Hispanic whites make up 38.1 percent of Elk Grove’s population, with Asians accounting for 26.3 percent, Latinos 18 percent and blacks 11.2 percent, according to the 2010 U.S. census.
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“Some people come from a different culture,” Jones told the crowd of 200 people. “They don’t want to be involved when they see crime.”
There was no shortage of diversity at Thursday’s event, with residents from different backgrounds and ages united in their concerns.
Elk Grove police gave assurances that crime was well below that of other cities of comparable size. Officials also pointed to statistics showing overall crime was down significantly in the beat area.
Nonetheless, East Franklin residents said the headlines of a middle school student getting robbed at gunpoint after school and a Mercedes-Benz crashing into a restaurant after a gunbattle have struck too close to home.
“The violence certainly scared everyone,” said Silvia Rodriguez, a 15-year resident. “It’s a wake-up call to get involved.”
Rodriguez blamed the “complacency” of city and police officials for the recent uptick in crime. She opposed a proposal to build a casino at the site of an abandoned strip mall along Highway 99, saying the project would bring more public safety problems.
While city leaders have repeatedly emphasized that the string of violence in late January was unrelated and suggested the episodes were perhaps an anomaly, Henry Lee, a computer programmer with three young children, remained unconvinced.
The incidents “highlight that there is a drug and gang violence problem,” Lee said. “It just bubbled to the surface.”
Police last week arrested a 17-year-old boy on suspicion of robbing a Toby Johnson Middle School student at gunpoint. The suspect, whose name was not released, was taken to Sacramento County juvenile hall. He was found to be affiliated with a gang, according to Officer Christopher Trim, spokesman for the Elk Grove Police Department.
Lee said the events caused him to wonder whether it was time to move out of the city, which has long been known for its quiet, family-friendly neighborhoods.
Former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness, who as a deputy patrolled in Elk Grove during the late 1980s when it was still an unincorporated rural outpost, said crime is inevitable as the population increases. Elk Grove has doubled its population in the last 15 years and was one of the fastest-growing areas of the United States before the recession.
“They’re now capable of developing their home-grown criminals,” McGinness said.
Chris Thorntona, who has lived in Elk Grove since 1989, also blamed the housing boom for the surge in crime. While she lives in a gated community, she said a family member had items stolen from a car.
“When there’s less oversight, things can happen,” said Thorntona, who attended the community meeting with her 19-month-old granddaughter, Eva.
Mayor Gary Davis said the meeting was the first step for East Franklin to establish an areawide neighborhood association. He told the gathering that some City Council members have begun discussing whether to hire more police officers.
The Police Department is authorized for 131.5 positions, a number that has remained stagnant for the last several years.
“Our city is only as strong as our neighborhoods,” Davis said.