San Diego now ranks as one of the nation's five safest cities, according to the latest crime statistics.
The overall crime rate last year dropped 4.3 percent – the lowest level since the 1960s.
It's quite a feat, given that the ratio of police officer to citizens is about half the national average.
But the department is backed by 15,000 Neighborhood Watch members, hundreds of citizen volunteers and a powerful framework of local law enforcement and social services.
"We have what we call today 'Intelligence-led policing',” said San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne. “It's using technology and communities to get us the information. Not just to catch people involved in crime, but it's designed to prevent crime.
Mayor Jerry Sanders and the department's top brass said that while the number of homicides in 2011 rose "slightly" from the year before, the murder rate was the lowest in 40 years.
An aggressive crackdown on gangs was credited with reducing the number of killings related to those activities from 18 in 2007 to 7 last year.
Also cited was a high degree of collaboration and information-sharing among all the federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
“It's a force multiplier. It's really leveraging that information. And there's a lot of effort to make sure they're using their resources wisely,” said Dr. Cynthia Burke from the San Diego Associations of Government. "We have to do that. We have to work together. We need to be smart with the taxpayer dollars. And I think our public safety leaders here in the region get that."
Resulting in task force roundups of ex-convicts in violation of their parole or probation terms.
The leading criminologist also notes a law-abiding community ethic, and spirit of “Good Samaritanism.”
“I think it's interesting to consider cellphone technology, other technologies, and people feeling comfortable calling the police, reporting crimes, taking a stand, stepping in,” said Burke. “We've seen citizens across the region who've stepped up and are willing to say 'We're here together in the region, and I'm going to stand up for that person who may be victimized.”
Dr. Burke said the law enforcement mission gets strong support from organizations that specialize in prevention, intervention and rehabilitation.
She warns, the system faces growing challenges as cities and counties absorb the impact of the state reducing its prison populations.
After years of budget cuts, San Diego's officer-to-population ratio is about half of the national average.
Mayor Sanders said he won't let that drop further, and is planning an upswing in hiring.
But the 'attrition rate' figures to outpace new recruits for some time to come.
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