On Tuesday, April 16, KHTS reported, “Safe Home, a home security company, used data from the FBI … of cities with at least 50,000 residents, to compile a list of the safest cities across the nation. Santa Clarita was named No. 9 in California and 49 in the United States.” The very next day, The Signal included a front-page story titled, “City ranked ninth safest in state.” Then, later that week, in the “Signal’s most talked about section,” residents’ comments ranged from memories of when “Santa Clarita was in top 10 safest in the country,” to impressions that it’s “because crime stats are suppressed by LASD.” One resident felt the city would rank even worse if “you excluded Valencia.”
Well, stories relating to the safety of our city have been written from time to time. In this case, I decided to visit www.safehome.org and see for myself who they are. As it turns out, KHTS was correct when they named Safe Home as a home security company. Safe Home describes the company as “a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com,” which does not sound much like an independent research firm.
Next, I brought up www.fbi.gov to see if the same admonitions about their data were still being included. Sure enough, the FBI themselves tells us, “Since crime is a sociological phenomenon influenced by a variety of factors, the FBI discourages ranking locations or making comparisons as a way of measuring law enforcement effectiveness. Some of this data may not be comparable to previous years because of differing levels of participation over time.” In addition, “It’s important to consider the various factors that lead to crime activity and crime reporting in a community before interpreting the data. Without these considerations, the available data can be deceiving. Factors to consider include population size and density.” Therefore, it may not provide a clear picture if we rank our city of 217,000 residents against cities greater than 50,000.
Lastly, rankings depend on how the evaluation team weighs the data. For example, FBI Violent Crime data reflects a “hierarchy rule, which requires that only the most serious offense in a case be counted. The descending order of violent crimes is homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, followed by the property crimes of burglary, larceny theft, and motor vehicle theft.” When I looked at how another company called “Safewise” weighs and views the data, Santa Clarita does not even make the top 50 list. If you were to evaluate the data, how many robberies would you equate to a single homicide? I believe George Buck was right on when he said, “Statistics don’t lie. It’s the people who make up the statistics that lie.” So, instead of becoming one of those people, I’ll just relay my impressions about safety in our fair city.
Since I have lived in the Santa Clarita Valley for over half a century, I have seen changes which have altered my behavior relative to staying alert and not becoming a victim. When I first moved here, Santa Clarita was truly a small town. When my wife and I would go down the street to visit our neighbor, there seemed no reason to close our garage or lock our doors. Neighbors looked out for each other, most local law enforcement was made up of Reserve Officers, and when you saw a patrol car, you most often knew the person driving. Even as the community grew over the next several decades and locking things up became the norm, you could always count on those who lived around you.
For example, in 1990, a 31-year-old recently released jail inmate named Rene who was cold, hungry and living on the street, decided to take refuge in my house. He very carefully pried the window frame out of my back door, entered my house, ate lunch, and left with my leather motorcycle jacket, some change and a handgun. Two of my neighbors, Mr. Sam Rowe and Mr. Mike Quigley, saw him leave my back yard, recognized my jacket, and the chase was on. Rene darted down a street and over a fence, landing him on Soledad Canyon, just as two plain-clothed deputies were driving past. When they recognized he had a gun, the officers started around the block. My two neighbors followed Rene to the Shell Station, which was at Soledad and Whites Canyon, and witnessed Rene jump over a pony wall, which obscured where he was living, so they called 911. Just then, the two deputies pulled into the station were directed to where Rene was hiding, and took him into custody shortly after. When Mike called me at work and told me what had happened, I was sure I would come home to find the house ransacked. But that was not the case, and when I picked up my valuables from the Sheriff’s Station, I was told of Rene’s past and his desire to end it all if he could not return to jail, where he would at least have a full stomach and be out of the elements. It was my first experience with crime and homelessness in the Santa Clarita Valley. The story appeared as front-page news in The Signal on May 9, 1990. I have saved a copy of that paper all this time, and when I see Mike Quigley this coming week, I intend to thank him again.
Did that experience make me feel less safe? For me, it emphasized the importance of “neighbors helping neighbors,” and I feel fortunate as families have moved in and out of my immediate area, and we continue to live near residents who want to maintain good neighborhood relationships, so we are still looking out for each other. Have I taken additional precautions? You bet, but not always just to keep myself safe. About 10 years later, we put in and alarm system. The primary reason was to protect our Maltese named “Puff” and Cat named “CoCo,” in case of a house fire occurring when we were at work.
Now, if I were to use the FBI data, I would concentrate on the parts which show an increase in violent crimes, and consider the need to visit a city council meeting to ask that additional resources be provided to our Sheriff’s Department. I remember going to a Santa Clarita Public Safety Subcommittee meeting years ago and encountering Sheriff Captain Becker, who at the time was serving our community. He provided his report and stated his intent to put another patrol car by Jake’s Way, to which one of the council members stated, “That’s not in the city.” (Jake’s Way had not been annexed into the city at that time). When Captain Becker responded, “That is not important; Crime does not stop at the border,” I knew I was going to like this man. Since then, we have gone through several Santa Clarita Sheriff Captains who have been promoted or retired. Today, Captain Robert Lewis serves in the capacity of managing Sheriff’s Services in the Santa Clarita Valley, and in my estimation, he is an exceptional leader. When interacting with Captain Lewis, it is easy to recognize that he loves his job, not for the power he wields, but because of the community service he provides. Known for his endless energy and ability to resonate with his deputies and the public, Captain Lewis provides us the kind of services which are dedicated to keeping the community safe.
But remember, law enforcement cannot do it all. You must do your part by staying alert, becoming aware of what is going on around you, keeping your eyes open, and alerting the Sheriff’s Office when you see something that looks suspicious. Because when the “brown stuff” hits the fan, statistics will not matter. And if it is something beyond your control, hopefully you will have the assistance of a neighbor. And should you need to dial 911, one of Santa Clarita’s Sheriff Deputies will be ready to answer your call for help.