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A Marshall Plan to fight Manteca crime

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POSTED April 20, 2013 1:57 a.m.

Bruce Lownsbery is by all standards a thoughtful man.

He’s hardworking and strives to keep an eye on his money including what he entrusts the government to spend on his behalf.

He will often pore through tedious government paperwork on city issues before offering a suggestion or his opinion to the Manteca City Council. He isn’t overtly emotional and he tries not to let his biases get in the way of a possible solution.

You might not agree with him, but you’d have a hard time arguing that he isn’t level headed.

That’s why Lownsbery’s take on a potential move to have the voters consider raising the public safety tax to a full cent should be given careful consideration.

In a brief presentation during public comments at last week’s Manteca City Council meeting, Lownsbery pointed out city revenues from property taxes aren’t going to bounce back to previous levels anytime soon.

The reality of the housing market makes a restricted sales tax the only way the city could generate significant funds in the foreseeable future for stepped up police and fire protection.

Lownsbery isn’t exactly a man who embraces more taxes as the end all of addressing collective needs. He routinely pushes for government efficiency and re-examination to make sure tax dollars are spent in the most efficient and effective way possible.

On Tuesday, Lownsbery said he probably would vote for a half cent sales tax increase for public safety if he were given the chance. But that wasn’t a wholesale endorsement of just throwing more money at the problem.

Instead he believes voters should be presented with a plan that goes beyond just adding manpower. He’d like to see the city working in concert with the community through public hearings to cobble together Manteca’s own version of the City of Stockton’s Marshall Plan to fight crime.

Lownsbery notes there are factors beyond Manteca’s control when it comes to battling crime. They include the court system, the early release of felons from state prison, and the overwhelmed probation system to name a few.

He noted that perhaps the strategy of building a bigger police force with the intent of pushing criminals to nearby communities such as Stockton or Modesto might work. But then again, it doesn’t really solve the problem as it is akin to saying you have flood protection by simply putting duct tape over a crack in a dam.

Lownsbery believes any increase in sales tax should be tied to a specific action plan that goes beyond adding 15 more firefighter and 15 more police officers.

Although he did not elaborate, such a plan could include acquiring technology such as license plate scanners located at strategic entrances to Manteca. As shocking as it may sound, a large number of criminals who burglarize homes, break into vehicles, and shoplift do so in stolen vehicles.

Driving a stolen vehicle is probable cause. Having high tech help spotting the stolen vehicles greatly reduces the needle-in-the-haystack approach now employed when officers are patrolling for suspicious activity.

It might include hiring two community service officers dedicated full-time to organizing Neighborhood Watch groups and educating the public in how to reduce their risk of being crime victims.

The idea is to prevent crime. At least 20 percent of all Manteca vehicle thefts, for example, are the result of victims making it super easy for the criminals by leaving the engine running or keys in the ignition.

Organizing people to keep an eye out for their neighbors makes it harder for criminals to function.

A series of public hearings hammering out a long-range, community wide plan not just to keep crime in check but to target the causes might come up with unique juvenile deterrents or put punishments in place that effectively reduce the chance of young offenders becoming career criminals. If the state and county can’t afford a community diversion program for juvenile offenders that’s effective, maybe Manteca could have its own funded in part by a sales tax.

Those and other ideas need to be explored and a plan put together.

Instead of blindly throwing money at the problems, Manteca could give city voters the chance not to just support additional law enforcement efforts but to buy into a specific plan to find ways to secure permanent reductions in criminal activity.

Now the big question is who will step up to get the ball rolling?



This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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