Barry Blackburn is retiring after 27 years and one month of protecting people and property in Manteca
He has been part of one of the most effective police departments in California. That’s because the statistics that matter — crime per 1,000 residents — has been steadily declining for the most part since 2004.
Manteca is not Mayberry. It is also like a sieve with plenty of ways to flee the jurisdiction after committing a crime whether you head north, south, east or west. It is also on or near the junction of three major freeways. It has had uninterrupted growth. It has more than 400 documented gang members. The ranks of police officers hasn’t kept pace with growth and were actually pared back due to the Great Recession. There are a high number of latchkey kids. And it has a population that shrinks considerably during the day for long commutes leaving large swaths of neighborhoods unpopulated for all practical purposes.
All of those are perfect ingredients for crime to fester and spread like cancer.
Yet that isn’t happening.
A look at raw numbers shows there were 283 residential burglaries in Manteca in 2013. That’s the same exact number as in 2004. At first glance there appears to be no improvement as residential burglaries were the same each year.
But when you factor in population you get a true picture of crime. There were 60,000 Manteca residents in 2004. That compares to 72,000 people in 2013. That means there were 4.7 residential burglaries in 2004 per 1,000 residents compared to 3.9 residential burglaries per 1,000 residents in 2013. That’s a 17 percent drop based on crime compared to population.
Drops are even more significant for other felonies with vehicle theft leading the way. There were 798 vehicle thefts or 13.3 per 1,000 Manteca residents in 2004. That dropped to 327 vehicle thefts or 4.5 per 1,000 residents in 2013. That’s a 65 percent drop when population is mixed in with the crime.
Aggravated assault — the category were a lot of gang violence ends up being tallied — was at 4.5 incidents per 1,000 people in 2013 down from 5.8 per 1,000 in 2007.
If you’re a victim of a crime, one crime is one crime too many.
But it is clear that Manteca is making big inroads into crime.
The police deserve the lion’s share of the credit. Whether it was in 2004 which was arguably the most crime riddled year in Manteca history or through the Great Recession when the police force retracted due to budget cuts, solid and dedicated police work coupled with strategic thinking has allowed law and order to gain the upper hand.
Back in 2004, Manteca Police shifted resources to target the habitual criminals who maybe accounted for 10 percent of the arrests but were responsible for 90 percent of the crime. A similar strategy emerged during the Great Recession when limited resources were shifted to make sure a handle was kept on felonies while letting quality of life crimes slip.
Also contributing to the successful fight against crime is the design of new neighborhoods and new buildings, parks and recreation programs, voter approval of the Measure M public safety half cent sales tax, after school programs, church outreach, and Neighborhood Watch groups among others.
Say what you want, but Manteca is much safer today than it was 11 years ago.
You can’t argue with actual crimes that take place. Nor can you dismiss the fact that when coupled with population gains crime is down.
At the same time one crime is one too many. That is especially true if you are the victim.
To keep crime going in the right direction it will take more manpower and it will take every once in awhile readjusting strategies from deployment to equipment as Nick Obligacion and his predecessors as police chief have done over the years.
To keep on the right track in light of the massive release of state prisoners it is essential that Manteca continues to work on the root of crime.
You could have a 1,000-man police department and it can’t be effective without people keeping an eye open and reporting suspicious activity. Nor can it succeed in the long run without a concerted effort to steer young people away from a life of crime.
And it certainly wouldn’t work unless a community like Manteca has hardworking, dedicated men and women like Barry Blackburn wearing the uniform.