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We fear gangs when we should fear other drivers
Dennis Wyatt

Are our fears misplaced when it comes to the chances of death, injury or financial loss at the hands of strangers or even acquaintances and loved ones?

Strip away suicides and someone killing their self through an accident while handling a weapon, there were 17,250 deaths in the United States in 2016 classified as murder. The number of deaths in the United States as the result of a traffic collision in 2016 was 37,461.

The crime and traffic mishap statistics for Manteca in 2016 were even starker.

There was one person murdered and 89 assaulted in 2016 in Manteca. Compare that to five traffic deaths and 240 traffic collisions where at least one person sustained an injury.

While there are no final 2017 statistics yet nationally, Manteca had five homicides and 111 assault victims last year. There were four traffic facilities and 186 incidents where a traffic collision resulted in one or more injuries. Overall there were 946 traffic collisions

Manteca Police — as well as other law enforcement authorities — will tell you the majority of murder victims knew their killers or were involved in illegal activities. Compare that to traffic fatalities and injuries where almost all mayhem involves strangers.

As for property losses, Manteca had 1,480 felonies related to stealing and 1,969 misdemeanor thefts in 2017. That reflected $4.7 million in stolen property of which 41 percent or $1.9 million was recovered.

Manteca Police does not keep a total of financial losses from traffic accidents.

According to the National Safety Council the average cost for each death in a motor vehicle accident is $1.1 million, the average cost for each nonfatal disabling injury is $61,600, and the average cost for property damage crashes including non-disabling injuries is $7,500.

Those figures take into account motor vehicle damage, medical expenses, as well as wage and productivity losses.

If all of the 2017 traffic collisions in Manteca did not include deaths or any disabling injuries and were simply property damage with or without non-disabling injuries the tab for overall losses with be $7.1 million. Toss in $1.1 million per traffic fatality in 2017 and you’d be at $11.5 million in losses.

Going back to the value of property stolen, since 41 percent or stolen property was recovered the true loss is $1.9 million. Even without traffic fatalities factored in, traffic collisions result in almost four times more financial losses for Manteca residents compared to property theft.

Based on that you would think Manteca Police would have more officers — or close to the same number — dedicated to a special unit targeting traffic enforcement than other units combined such as gang and detectives.

That isn’t the case. There are three dedicated officers to traffic enforcement. And while all officers can enforce traffic laws, that is not their main focus.

It is true that it takes a lot of manpower to solve murders and other heinous crimes as well as keep a lid on gangs and prolific criminals.

Before exploring whether police might be misdirecting resources based on public demands driven by misplaced fears, consider what most people say about crime and traffic “accidents” judging from social media postings.

If a murder by gun, heinous attack, or theft from a home occurs the outrage meter goes off the charts. People demand the suspension of due process, often slam the police or government for not doing enough, argue the world is getting less safe by the second, describe in gruesome detail what they’d do to the perpetrator if they caught them, and demand elected leaders do more.

Now compare that to the response of a death or gruesome injury in a traffic collision. The torch and pitchfork chatter is at a minimum, there is sometimes a call for people to slow down or pay attention, and a demand that elected leaders do more.

Funny, but given how safe our streets are is a direct result of how we all drive you’d think people would be swearing off rogue driving and sticking to the DMV rules.

We can all make a considerable dent in the auto death and injury rates especially compared to the murder and theft rates. While we can’t do much if we come across people who ignore driving rules and laws on a wholesale basis, we can drive defensively.

That means paying attention, never texting and such, stopping at stop signs, keeping a safe distance from others, not cutting others off, resisting the temptation to respond to rude or unsafe driving by others, not ignoring amber lights, and at a minimum drive the posted speed limit even though the basic California traffic law adds a caveat to the posted speed limits by noting you cannot drive faster than is safe for the conditions.  

As for police, if Manteca can’t afford $150,000 plus in reoccurring expenses to put another traffic officer on the street in addition to the four new police officer positions they are adding in the fiscal year that started July 1, the City Council should consider tapping into undesignated reserves for efforts to make Manteca’s streets safer as the fiscal year unfolds.

Examples could include the City Council setting aside $10,000 or so to cover overtime for targeted enforcement at pedestrian crosswalks, citing illegal cellphone use, red light running, and locations where stop signs are habitually ignored. This would augment the regular effort of the three traffic officers by providing OT for them and other officers for targeted enforcement.

The city could deploy roundabouts in older neighborhoods as well as bulb-outs near established parks and schools just like Manteca is requiring for new neighborhood. Safer streets can be obtained with passive enforcement moves, targeted enforcement, and all of us stepping up.


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 or 209.249.3519.