Los Banos residents crucial in deterring crime

Chief's 3-prong effort relies on public's help

By Corey Pride / Cpride@losbanosenterprise.comOctober 5, 2012 

As property crimes have risen and assaults and gang violence continue to hammer Los Banos, the Police Department is pushing a three-pronged strategy to keep residents safe.

Police Chief Gary Brizzee said he believes crime can be combated through suppression, prevention and intervention. He said he believes there is a role in the latter two concepts that the public can and sometimes does play.

"What we focus on is suppression, because that's what police are best suited for. But we have such a collage of people and groups in the community that I know some prevention and intervention is being done," Brizzee said.

One of the biggest things Brizzee said members of his department ask children while trying to discourage them from entering a life of crime is, "Do you see any old gangsters?"

"The answer is no," he said.

Last month Los Banos' six-month crime statistics were released. The report shows crime was up 18 percent in the city, mostly due to property crimes such as burglaries and thefts.

Police are imploring residents to be proactive in decreasing crimes by locking doors and not leaving valuables in their cars.

"We still have people who leave their wallets, cell phones or iPods in their cars," he said. "It only takes a second for someone to come along, break the glass, and your stuff's gone."

Last year Los Banos suffered a rash of violence that included nearly 20 shootings, most of which were gang-related. Violent crimes are down in the city but, Brizzee said, no one should be complacent.

"Is Los Banos a safe place to live, yes. Are there parts of the city where I wouldn't take my kids or am I afraid to go to the movies, no," he said. "(But) we can all agree violent crimes are too high."

Like many towns in California, Los Banos has seen its budget squeezed in recent years by a failing housing market. The city began the fiscal year projecting a $641,000 deficit in its general fund, which pays for the bulk of law enforcement salaries. While no officers were laid off or missed paychecks this year, the shrinking budget has had an impact in the past few years.

Brizzee said in the middle of the last decade his department had 48 sworn officers and 28 civilian staff members. Today, Brizzee said, there are 36 sworn officers and 20 civilians working in the department.

Although the chief downplays staffing levels, saying "If you ask any chief if they want more officers they're going to say yes," he is gearing up to campaign to extend a ballot measure that pays officers' salaries.

In 2009, voters approved Measure A with 82 percent of the vote. It allows salaries of police officers and firefighters, which usually come out of the city's general fund, to be paid through the half-cent sales tax approved in 2004, known as Measure P. The portion of the Measure P monies being used for salaries and benefits were previously being saved to build a new police station and firefighter training tower.

Measure A sunsets in 2014. Brizzee said he currently has six officers being paid through Measure A. He said it appears that getting the voters to approve an extension is critical.

Enterprise staff writer Corey Pride can be reached at 388-6563 or cpride@losbanos

enterprise.com.

Enterprise staff writer Corey Pride can be reached at 388-6563 or cpride@losbanos enterprise.com.

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