DANVILLE – Mayor Renee Morgan hosted a Town Hall event featuring a Public Safety roundtable last Saturday, May 20th.
The event featured leaders involved in Danville public safety: Contra Costa Sheriff Livingston, Danville Police Chief Steve Simpkins and San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District Chief Paige Mayer.
Mayor Renee Morgan opened the event by sharing that Danville spends $9.6 million, or about 29.3% of the town’s budget, to police the approximately 8.1 square miles of land within town boundaries.
Morgan also applauded the response of public works staff and first responders during recent winter storms when the town received a year’s worth of rainfall in a 2 month period. The town is applying to be partially reimbursed by state and federal programs for the nearly $450,000 in property damage and repairs sustained during those storms.
The mayor introduced Danville Police Chief Steve Simpkins, a member of the Sheriff’s Office since 1994 and Danville Police Chief since 2010. Simpkins mainly focused on the numbers, noting that despite some residents’ perception of a rising crime rate in town, 2016 yielded an all-time-low property crime rate.
Simpkins shared that the town’s all-time high property crime rate was recorded in 1995, when 806 property crimes were reported. In 2013, the town recorded an all-time low number of 411 property crimes, nearly half the number reported in 1995. A new all-time low was recorded in 2016, when just 365 property crimes were recorded.
The chief offered explanation for some residents’ false perception that property crime is on the rise, noting the reach and speed at which information is shared has increased dramatically since 1995. “The difference is… what we didn’t have in 1995 when crime was at its worst was we didn’t have Facebook, Nextdoor, Twitter. The speed that information travels throughout the neighborhoods, and now, when we have something happen in the neighborhood, it feels like a lot more as opposed to what the numbers really are,” Simkins said.
Simpkins credits a number of factors for 2016’s incredibly low property crime rate, including enhanced crime-fighting and community outreach programs.
To curb the number of property crimes in Danville, the department has stepped up volunteer patrols, assigned officers to a special “crime suppression” detail, and expanded their community outreach. Simpkins emphasized that although there are only so many police officers in town, there are 43,000 residents that can report suspicious activity. “We want you to trust us and call us when you feel something’s out of place… we need that trust,” Simpkins said.
Simpkins also applauded the November installation of new ALPR and situational awareness camera system around town. He cited an example of their effectiveness when officers were investigating a recent early morning stabbing in town. Officers were able to arrest the suspect in under 2 hours in a nearby city with only the make and model of the suspect vehicle as a lead.
During the open questions section of the event, a resident expressed concern about recent escalation of crime during two separate Costco robberies. Simpkins reassured the attendees the department will be putting many resources into solving those cases and bringing the perpetrators to justice.
Two citizens also expressed concerns about drivers and bikers running stop signs in residential areas. Simpkins said the department has a supervisor assigned to traffic enforcement in Danville and they are focusing on the “Three E’s,” education, engineering and enforcement. He assured the attendees although they may not see them all the time, his traffic officers are actively issuing traffic citations to drivers and bikers.
San Ramon Valley Fire Chief Paige Meyer, a soon-to-be Danville resident himself, also presented during the event. He jokingly clarified the difference between his department and others in town, “in the fire service, we’re a little more complex than the police department, when there’s a fire… we put water on it,” Meyer said.
Meyer primarily focused on the financials of the department and the way the department is looking to improve their already excellent ranking compared to other fire departments nationally.
The fire chief assured attendees the department is in “fantastic” financial shape. He said the department puts their budget surplus toward unfunded liabilities, “we are paying more on our unfunded liabilities than is required, which I believe in the state of California, let alone in the United States, isn’t being done,” Meyer said. The department’s unfunded liabilities include facilities and pensions. Meyer also said the department is building their capital improvement plan, putting money away every year so they don’t need to pull money from the general fund for upgrades.
Meyer shared that 80% of the department’s calls for service are medical emergencies. The national average “save rate” for heart attack events is 30%, but San Ramon Valley’s save rate sits at around 50%, and sometimes 80%, according to Meyer, which puts the district among the top 3 in the nation for heart attack save rates.
In the past year, the fire department has contracted a 3rd party quality company to conduct an improvement review of every medical call the department responds to. Meyer says the aim of the review, which is the only one in the nation the chief knows of, is to find mistakes and trends to ultimately find ways to improve and enhance response methods.
The fire chief also discussed enhanced firefighter and rescue training, an approach to fire prevention that’s more accommodating to the customers the fire district serves, and the CERT (community emergency response team) classes the district holds three times a year.
Contra Costa Sheriff Coroner Livingston, also a resident of Danville, also spoke during the town hall event. He explained the Danville Police Department contracts with the Sheriff’s Office to provide their police force. Livingston also explained where the $200 million budget for the Sheriff’s Office comes from. A third comes from grant money, a third comes from Prop 172 ($.005 sales tax) and a third comes from the general fund of the county.
Livingston also expressed excitement for the new 400 bed mental health facility planned to be constructed by 2020 in the west end of the county, specifically aimed at treating mental health patients. He also reminded Blackhawk, Alamo and Diablo residents their police force is provided by the Sheriff’s Office and some communities pay an extra tax to have more patrols in their specific communities.
Mayor Morgan closed the Town Hall event with a quote from Sidney Sheldon, in honor of armed forces day, “my heroes are those who risk their lives every day to protect our world and make it a better place – police, firefighters and members of our armed forces.”