■ Melissa Diaz Hernandez / Reporter
After the first time the Ramirez family came to a Hemet City Council meeting to express frustration with the handling of Daniel Ramirez’ homicide case, City Manager Alex Meyerhoff asked Police Chief Dave Brown if he would like to give a public safety update to address the concerns. And at the March 14 Hemet City Council meeting, Chief Brown did just that during his annual Crime and Safety Update.
Condolences and clarifications
Brown began his update by offering his condolences to the families, stating “you have heard from friends and family members of the victims and heard from ordinary citizens wanting to express their condolences for the loved ones who have pleaded for you to help them. You have heard deep sorrow, grief, pain as well as frustration and anger. You have heard a number of things that are entirely accurate and you have heard a number of things that are blatantly false. I have to admit that with you — it has been difficult to sit and listen out of respect for those who have experienced loss and pain.
“City Council made a formal request to me at your last meeting to return with a report to clarify and to provide facts to address some of the concerns expressed to you. That is my reason for addressing you tonight. Before I do, I would like to address the members of the public, who have been personally victimized or have a loved one or family member to violence. Nothing I say here tonight will even come close to filling the void or easing the pain that you must be feeling. It is not my intent to try to minimize your loss but rather to provide some clarity to you and the rest of our community.”
Mayor Linda Krupa offered her sympathy and condolences to the families that have been speaking at the council meetings and to other families that have lost their loved ones to violence, which was a different tone from the prior council meeting on Feb 28 where she denied the grieving mother of Daniel Ramirez, Corina Moreno-Ramirez, more time to speak and told her to sit down.
Preliminary crime data released
Each year, law enforcement agencies provide their data to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, where it is made available for public view. The good news is that according to the data presented, homicides decreased by half from 2015 to 2016. There were 10 homicides in 2015 and only five homicides in 2016. Unfortunately, the number of reported rapes has increased 24 percent in the same time frame, from 33 to 41. It is important to remember that when cases of rape are reported, that they are only reported numbers — many cases go unreported every year because of fear, shame or guilt on the part of the victim. Because of the Community Block Development Grant (CDBG funds), Center Against Sexual Assault (CASA) will be able to bring the rape kit program back to Hemet Valley Medical Center, making it easier to provide assistance to victims who reside in the San Jacinto Valley.
Two of the 10 homicides committed in 2015 – Norris Tremble, who was killed Nov. 24, 2015; and Raul Garcia, who was killed Nov. 28, 2015 — remain unsolved. Of the five homicides reported for 2016, three — Daniel Ramirez, killed Nov. 4, 2016; Nicholas Males, killed June 19, 2016; and Jabarge Singleton, killed Nov. 20, 2016 — remain unsolved. This information was requested through the California Public Records Act and provided to The Valley Chronicle on March 3, 2017.
HPD’s homicide clearance rate higher than average
Brown stated that HPD’s homicide clearance rate for the three-year period of 2013 through 2015 is higher than the state and national averages as well as the average of Riverside County and city of San Jacinto. As evidenced by statistics and graphs presented for the six-year period from 2010 through 2015, Brown also stated that the Hemet Police Department’s clearance rate is better than the state and surrounding communities (Riverside County and city of San Jacinto), but falls slightly behind the national average. All 2013 homicides – two of which were murder/suicides — were cleared. Currently, three of the 10 homicides in 2014 remain unsolved.
The violent crime clearance rates presented at the meeting gave a 10-year average from 2004 to 2014. According to the numbers provided by HPD to the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program for publication, violent crime increased significantly from 2014 to 2015. There were 430 violent crimes reported in 2014 and 605 violent crimes reported in 2015.
I reached out to Police Chief Brown by email for the clearance rates for 2014 and 2015 to give a better picture but did not receive a response. However, Police Chief Brown did state during the presentation, “the data I will present to you tonight will show that in spite of the severe staffing challenges and shortages in our detective bureau and throughout our department, the Hemet Police Department continues to solve all violent crime, including homicides, at a higher rate than the local, state and national averages.”
Three critical factors in solving homicides
Police Chief Brown also spoke on what it takes to solve a murder. In a 2013 study published by the U.S. Department of Justice entitled “Best Practices in Increasing Homicide Clearance Rates,” three critical factors are identified in a police department’s ability to solve a homicide.
“The first is a foundational piece that is referred to as community trust and cooperation. We at the Hemet Police Department and certainly within the city of Hemet enjoy a strong bond with our community. We are a true community police force — meaning that the officers who work here live in the region and consider this to be their home and their territory,” said Brown. “In 2013 and 2014, you commissioned a Quality of Life survey, which was a bold step on your part to ask our community how they felt about their own safety and how they felt about their police and fire departments. They reported a 72 percent favorability rating to the Hemet Police Department. Personally, I didn’t think it was very good. As a baseball player, as a batter, I would probably think that average was good.
“Crime and safety and quality of life research has been performed in the Inland Empire since the mid-1980s and we were stunned at the high approval rating of this police department, especially in light of the impact of the economy on crime and safety,” continued Brown. “And there’s a strong commitment by the Hemet Police Department to schools and the youth and community involvement. “
The second foundational piece to the department’s ability to solve homicides, said Brown, is the positive working relationship with surrounding allied agencies.
“Every single homicide that occurs in the city of Hemet is jointly investigated with our counterparts of the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office. We work hand-in-hand and many of the people who have addressed you [during council meetings] suggested that we partner with other agencies,” explained Brown. “You also need to know that we lead a number of local task forces. I know that you are aware, council members, but for the community’s interest, we provide leadership and you provide housing and facilities for three major task forces in this region and we, on a daily basis, partner with our federal agency partners including FBI, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and DA’s office in the region.”
The third factor involving solving a homicide is the number and capability of investigative personnel.
“It really is a pinnacle of the department’s ability. The study I referred to recommends a maximum of three homicides to be assigned to dedicated homicide investigators at any one time for complete effectiveness,” said Brown. “The reality of the Hemet Police Department Detective Bureau is that five to seven homicide cases are assigned to each detective and in addition to that, each detective in the bureau is working an average of 60 to 70 other cases.”
Measure U passed in response to growing crime
As a response to the growing crime rate, Hemet citizens passed Measure U, a one-cent sales tax that takes effect April 1.
“Many speakers have expressed to you [Hemet City Council] concern that Hemet Police and homicide investigators are overwhelmed – that statement is largely accurate,” said Brown. “As you know, I have spent the better part of my tenure as your police chief testifying to the dangers of understaffing the police department. The effects of staffing cuts and downsizing have definitely impacted our detective bureau’s ability to solve cases and I know that you are working very hard to fix that as a council and as a community. However, the notion that the investigators, themselves, are somehow technically inferior or unable — in relationship to their counterparts in other regions — is entirely false.”
HPD has received funding from the reserve account that will be paid back by Measure U funds once the tax has been collected and distributed by the Board of Equalization. While the tax will not start to be collected until April 1, the city doesn’t expect to receive any funds until at least July.
Included in the initial action plan approved by council for funding, HPD will add four lateral police officers and four entry level police officers, two community service officers, one special enforcement bureau lieutenant, a communications/technology manager (new classification), one confidential office specialist, four P/T Police Cadets (20 hours per week), a quality of life prosecution unit (contract city prosecutor), and someone for recruiting/marketing/HR professional services.
$20,000 was also approved for education and training in gang/drug enforcement and homeless/vagrancy legal issues, safety and communications equipment and $440,000 for the purchase of enforcement vehicles.