FPD Faces String of Robberies Amidst Difficulties

William Yoo and Fiona Zhao , Staff Writer

In the last two waning weeks of 2016, the Mission Peak Area in Fremont experienced a string of seven car robberies and several residential robberies that broke with the regular trend of reduced robberies throughout Fremont, causing scrutiny and fear amongst residents in the area. Although armed robberies are exceedingly rare- the FPD reported an average of 2-4 per year- Fremont saw ones concentrated twice in the Mission District- on Dec. 9th and Dec. 28th. At approximately 2:10 PM, two armed suspects robbed a home on Durham Road, where they were chased, but not apprehended, by police responders.

These incidents are an anomaly in general trends against crime; the FPD reports that the overall city residential burglary rate is down 40% since May 2014, and the criminal apprehension rate is up 30% in video surveillance areas. CrimeReports, an online crime database the FPD utilizes for crime data, backs this information, but still reports 376 residential robberies over the year. Armed robberies are rarer, and the Department thinks that the incidents were unrelated, claiming that both the suspect descriptions as well as the modus operandi (pattern of crime) were different for both incidents and therefore likely separate. However, the fact that suspects for this incident, as well as the other car robberies, have continued to cause concern for many residents.The FPD has worked to alleviate residential concerns with its social media accounts through Facebook and Twitter, as well as through community meetings. On Dec. 19th, the FPD held a meeting at the Warm Springs Community Center where they answered questions about robbery concerns, passed out safety pamphlets on anti-crime measures, and reassured residents about redoubled efforts. New policies include a surveillance system in the Mission Area, increased patrol activity, and new street lights. However, the FPD claims one of their biggest problems is manpower, which was cut to 176 officers after the Recession, and has now climbed to 192, still under pre-Recession levels. The FPD’s VIPS program, which now contains around 80 volunteers, also helps with patrols, but it remains especially difficult to prosecute. “The arrest rate is challenging, because we often know a suspect or group of suspects are responsible for multiple burglaries, but we don’t always have enough evidence for the DA to charge every case,” the FPD reported.

However, a look in the City of Fremont’s Budget Report may reveal more problems that simple understaffing. The FPD’s budget has increased from 56 to 71 million dollars in the last three years, but a small fraction, only around 3 million, is spent on operational costs, a number that has not changed significantly. Increased salary costs have dominated much of the new budget, and hiring more officers remains almost prohibitively expensive: 2015 saw three new officers hired at a cost of $480,000. More funding it seems, is not enough to solve the department’s trouble with robberies in the area.

The new surge in armed, auto, and residential robberies in the Mission Area at the end of 2016 seems to be an anomaly, but the slower response in finding and catching the suspects hints at deeper difficulties than mere understaffing- the lack of evidence for the DA makes it difficult to convict repeat criminals and prohibitive costs make further programs difficult to fund with limited operational budgets.