While assaults dropped by 27% last year in Scotts Valley, other crimes increased—including burglaries almost doubling, according to stats presented to Scotts Valley City Council by Police Chief Steve Walpole, Jr., Aug. 4.
Other so-called Part 1 Crimes that increased between 2019 and 2020 included robbery, which jumped from one to seven, and rape, which rose from two to seven.
“We continue to keep our city the safest place to live in Santa Cruz County, and we were ranked as one of the safest places to live in all of the state of California,” Walpole said. “We were able to maintain the public safety despite a number of unprecedented challenges to our organization, to our city and our way of life.”
Scotts Valley continued its trend of zero homicides, and overall calls for service remained just under 6,500, but officer-initiated activity dropped 16%, citations plunged 40% and arrests were down 23%.
Unlike other communities, which saw intimate partner abuse rise during the pandemic, domestic violence incidents dropped 24% from 25 to 19 in Scotts Valley.
Vandalism/graffiti was down by 31%, from 77 to 53. Drug violations were down by 5%—from 95 to 90. But auto thefts increased 163%, from eight to 21.
City Councilwoman Donna Lind, a former Scotts Valley Police Department officer, thanked the chief for his “outstanding service” in trying times.
“I did notice the dramatic increase of crimes on the Part 1 crimes—both the robbery and obviously the rape cases as well,” she said, wondering if this could be connected to the coronavirus pandemic. “I’m just wondering if there’s any indication—if there’s anything in looking at those crimes that we could learn from them?”
Walpole replied that the dramatic percentage increases are due to the fact that Scotts Valley has so little crime to begin with.
“So, it makes it look like it’s a huge jump, but really it’s just a couple extra,” he said. “The one that was concerning to me, and we did notice here, for sure, was burglary.”
While the city had seen fewer than 45 burglaries for the previous three years, between 2019 and 2020, the number jumped from 31 to 60.
“Due to the lockdown, all the burglars knew that everybody was locked at home,” Walpole said. “So, unfortunately, some of our businesses got targeted in the first few months of Covid-19.”
Lind said she understands that a small number of additional crimes can be a valid explanation for the triple-digit increases.
“I know that’s always the case when we have some of these major crimes—one or two can make a huge jump,” she said, adding, “the burglaries definitely seem—and maybe even the robbery—to coincide with the community shut-downs.”
The traffic ticket drop was also linked to Covid-19, Walpole said.
“There wasn’t a lot of traffic on the roadway, for three or four months in a row,” he said. “So, there wasn’t a lot of vehicles to even stop, which resulted in less citations.”
Walpole reflected on how the department also took on a new role last year—public health enforcement of mask-wearing and stay-at-home order compliance.
“These new rules kind of forced our department to become the de facto enforcement arm of the county health department, as the general public called in violations of the order,” he said. “It also meant our staff all had to mask up during work.”
And he singled out Capt. Mike Dean for his efforts—alongside his other employees—during the CZU Lighting Complex fires evacuation.
“Capt. Dean probably held the record for the most hours worked in a seven-day workweek,” he said. “He logged in 105 hours in seven days, which was outrageous.”
City Councilman Jim Reed, the vice mayor, commended the police department for the way it reacted to the wave of racial justice activism over the past year.
“I just especially want to thank you and your entire team … for the way that you proactively responded after George Floyd’s murder,” he said, noting some of his local government peers over the hill in Silicon Valley “couldn’t believe it” when he told them the chief actually spoke at the Black Lives Matter protest, “—and that was certainly a catalyst for change.”
And yet, something many residents might not realize, is that even at that very moment, the department was already in discussions with the city about how to stamp out discrimination, promote inclusion, and outlaw inappropriate officer tactics.
“You were talking with the city manager about things that we can do proactively, before there was really any pressure on the Scotts Valley Police Department to take a look at its own procedures—just because you had an organization that’s committed to continuous improvement,” Reed said. “And you volunteered that we can do more about implicit bias training; and we can do more about conflict de-escalation; we can do more to make sure officers are sensitive to when we might be dealing with primarily what’s a mental health problem.”
Demographic data included with the report showed Black people made up about 1% of Scotts Valley’s population at the time of the 2010 Census, and 4% of in-custody arrests in 2020. Latinx people made up 10% of the city’s population, and 22% of arrests. Asians made up 5% of the city’s population, and 1% of arrests. White people made up 86% of the population and 67% of arrests. Other racial groups made up 8% of the population and 6% of arrests.
This is the first year these statistics—which are collected during routine traffic stops—have been included with the department’s annual report.
During his presentation, Walpole reflected on how the department was trying to be responsive to the social movement afoot in 2020.
“The peaceful protest prompted our department to reexamine our own policies and procedures around the use of force,” he said. “And we ended up making improvements to the way we do business, and ultimately presented those changes to city council for approval.”
City Councilman Randy Johnson said he appreciated the quality police service provided this year, adding the residents do too.
“They like living here because it is a safe place,” he said. “But mostly, Steve, the leadership you’ve shown is impressive. And I just kind of want to pass that on and give you my compliments on a job well done in a pretty hard year.”