■ Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter
Friday, April 7, 2017 is a date that will not necessarily live in infamy but will certainly be remembered for Hemet Police Chief David Brown’s press conference at Weston Park when Mayor Linda Krupa shouted out loud and clear so all could hear: “WE ARE DECLARING A WAR ON CRIME!”
Oh yes, the networks covered it. Cameras were like banks of flowers adorning the immediate area before the podium. NBC, CBS, Channel 9 and who knows how many other media outlets recorded the great occasion. Phone cameras were snapping like hungry turtles in early spring.
Mayor Krupa left no doubt that the city means business. “We are declaring a war on crime because we are under attack. A declaration of war is important because we are already under attack.” Her speech had presidential campaign quality. Our mayor shouts it out like an old fashioned Southern preacher.
She pointed out that thousands of violent criminals from state prisons and county jails have severely impacted our community. “Far too many Hemet residents have been victimized. Criminals have been emboldened by laws and policies in their favor. We are fed up and we intend to fight back. Today is the day we draw a line in the sand.” Seems like I’ve heard that call to action a couple of times before.
The City Council, she stated, “has directed the police chief to do whatever is necessary to return our city to the peaceful, safe community we all know and love. This effort will improve the quality of life for everyone in Hemet and we are committing millions of dollars to insure victory. We will make Hemet the safest city in the region.”
The gathering at Weston Park presented the atmosphere of an old fashioned tent meeting back home in West Virginia where one was expected to get saved, sanctified, baptized and almost immediately start speaking in tongues – something I am very familiar with having grown up with four Pentecostal preachers within my immediate clan. There were a lot of “praise the Lords” and “Amens” during the hour-long meeting. I looked for a halo to soon settle over the park and we’d live in peaceful harmony ever after. Didn’t happen.
The commander in chief of the Hemet Police Department, David Brown, followed the mayor to the podium. With Chief Brown in command, the troops were commandeered and our good citizens will soon see where the $100 million tax measure passed in November will be put to use. Brown, as dapper and eloquent of speech as he is wont to be, received a rousing ovation from the crowd estimated at about 200 when he took to the mic and addressed his audience. After first introducing neighboring officials and law enforcement officers (the Sheriff’s Department was conspicuously absent – their invitation must have been lost in the mail), including District Attorney Michael Hestrin, along with members of his department and prominent citizens, Chief Brown laid out his plan.
Much of what was ballyhooed was a rehash of speeches I’ve listened to time and time again since I moved to our fair valley almost 34 years ago. We have always had crime. Citizens have always complained and city hall has always promised to do something about it, yet the streets remained poorly lit and crime seekers continue to lurk in the shadows, always willing to filch a purse or bob a noggin with a lead pipe. Maybe we should spend some of that $100,000,000 replacing street lights and placing cops on bicycles in neighborhoods. Whatever happened to the cop on the beat who knew the neighborhood he patrolled and who the bad guys were in the community? I noticed some extra lard on some of Hemet’s best out there that morning. Bicycling will reduce that in nothing flat.
“Since the great recession began in 2008, through 2012 there were 4,000 violent crimes committed in the city of Hemet. That’s almost 500 a year, more than three times the average for a city of our size. Ruthless, senseless crimes. People are ready for a change.” He continued on, “People are clearly ready for a change. During that time period the Hemet Police Department’s officers has been reduced by 30 percent.”
He blamed much of the problems on the state. “The impact of Propositions 47 and 57, along with AB-109, has led to a perfect storm in Hemet.” He declared that reducing the number of inmates in overcrowded county jails and state prisons has saturated our community with people who shouldn’t be loose in our community. I don’t doubt a word he said and I’ve never doubted it from the lips of former chiefs, of which there have been a few since I moved to this valley paradise. (Used to be, anyway).
I’ll never understand, I guess, but every time politicos get their you know what caught in the wringer it is always somebody else’s fault. Maybe it is time we all take a good look in the mirror and ask, “Is this partly my fault?” Scary question, huh?
Chief Brown explained his war strategy: “This declaration to go to war is important because when a community goes to war, three things happen. First we set aside our petty differences and we come together for a great cause. As I look around here this morning I see every segment of our community represented.” He pointed out the fact that every organization of labor to management, service clubs, chambers of commerce as well as religious organizations and those who assist with the poor and homeless had come to hear this proclamation.
“Second,” he said, “We make bold moves toward victory as we roll out this plan of attack today. We now have the resources to enforce zero tolerance against crime as we join forces with federal, state and county law enforcement to boldly and aggressively overwhelm those who choose to engage in criminal activities in our community.
“Third, we commit the $100 million over the next 10 years to public safety. We will ask the Hemet City Council to approve the hiring of 21 new police officers and to improve the compensation of our police officers so that we can attract the best talented and dedicated police professionals.” This brought about the loudest roar of approval during the press conference.
He promised a new crime suppression unit to take on the most violent offenders, undercover as well as in uniform. He specifically paid honor “to the memory of those who have lost their lives to violence and to recognize their survivors, many of whom are here today.”
“Also,” he added, “a quality of life team to enforce nuisance crimes like panhandling, vandalism, trespassing and jaywalking. We will employ a special community prosecutor to work with the District Attorney to assure that local ordinances are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
He promised to expand the city’s partnership with federal enforcement agencies. All in all it was a rather forceful statement of intent, and as Riverside County Supervisor Chuck Washington so eloquently put it, “It’s largely the optics of this that we want you to see.”
So we are now going to cooperate with some of the people and organizations we blame for our problems? Hey folks, is the boat leaking or is it just filling up with criminals from some other district? Heard that a lot, haven’t we? Not long ago we were told that Hemet had one of the lowest crime rates in the county.
In my 93 years I have been privy to dozens of wars, most of which ended with the rhetoric. Wars on juvenile delinquency, Wars on drugs, wars on teen pregnancies, wars on gangs, wars on smog, wars on prostitution and sex trafficking, not to mention the real wars that depopulate the world’s real estate. I, along with you, am still waiting for peace.
OK, so I’m poking a little fun at authority. So what? I have great respect for the mayor, City Council and Chief Brown. I know them well and wish them the best for their efforts. However, in kindergarten I heard the sky was falling and it is still there. I think it will be there next year, too. At the rate we’re going we may see a retro to the 1890s in a year or two. We got all that money from the taxpayers, but usually money does not fix social problems and trust me, folks, crime is a social problem. Didn’t we raise these “criminals?”