Sergio Cortes tracks crime data.
As a downtown resident and neighborhood liaison, he logs on to the website crimereports.com most days. He’s looking for the patterns in things – a grouping of burglarized cars or smashed storefront windows. If he notices something, he passes it along to the police.
Of course, the Fresno Police Department is keeping its own tab on things.
“Every day we’re looking at crime data,” says Capt. Mark Salazar, southwest district commander.
What officers are seeing might go against people’s perception of Fresno’s urban core.
According to statistics from the department’s Downtown Policing Unit, crime was down in several key categories in 2018 – and by large margins. Vehicle burglaries, for example dropped by 55.4 percent. The number of stolen vehicles dropped 31 percent. Burglary was down 25 percent, larceny 11.5 percent and robbery 43.8 percent, according to the department.
Similar decreases were seen across much of the city, where property crime was down 13.9 percent, according to unaudited data provided by the department. Vehicle burglary saw the largest drop city wide, at 21.9 percent.
In downtown, there was a coordinated effort toward prevention and enforcement, Salazar says. A good deal of crime in the area was being committed by a few people, he says. So, the department created a top-10 list for downtown criminals and worked with the district attorney to get those people off the streets.
The Downtown Police Unit – which includes five officers and one sergeant – also created an action plan for dealing with events like ArtHop and soccer games at Chukchansi Park, something that hadn’t been done before. The unit began meeting regularly with the Downtown Fresno Partnership’s hospitality ambassadors and private security companies to share information.
And officers started connecting with residents like Cortes, who hosts a Coffee with the Cops event a few times each year.
“At the end of the day, it’s about being visible, being down there talking to people,” Salazar says.
Neighborhood is watching
That does make a difference, Cortes says. He has lived downtown – in the Cultural Arts District and the Lowell Neighborhood – for close to a decade. He started becoming more involved in organizing with his neighbors in 2016, after a series of break-ins at a bicycle shop in the Warnors Theatre Complex.
Along with the Cops with Coffee events and watching the crime stats, he runs the Cultural Arts District neighborhood group on Facebook. He’s seen more direct engagement between the police and residents over the past few years.
“It’s creating a sense of community,” he says.
Crime has not gone away altogether and there is more work to be done, Cortes says. In January, a couple stole money from the tip jar at the Chicken Shack (they were caught on camera). Several businesses on Fulton Street recently had front windows broken.
On Feb. 10, a man was shot and killed near Divisadero and H streets.
“Do we still have challenges? Yes,” Salazar says.
That includes looking at the homeless population in the area, he says.
That seems to be at issue with the perception of downtown, Cortes says. He doesn’t often hear about crime from his neighbors, but he does hear about people jumping into dumpsters and making messes.
“It doesn’t mean that the area is unsafe,” he says.
“Homeless people do not equal crime.”