Is down­town Fresno safer? Stats tell only part of story

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY MAREK WARSZAWSKI [email protected]­nobee.com

One down­town Fresno busi­ness got bro­ken into and bur­glar­ized so of­ten — four times in a three-month span — that the owner closed his doors and left town.

“That’s ex­actly why we left,” Dar­ren John­son said. “Best move I ever made.”

An­other down­town Fresno busi­ness has never been bro­ken into, nor bur­glar­ized. Not in 3½ years at two sep­a­rate lo­ca­tions.

“I’ve never seen crime,” Kirk James says. “We caught one in­di­vid­ual three years ago walk­ing out of (a neigh­bor­ing store) with a few things af­ter it was closed for the day. Be­sides that I’ve never ex­pe­ri­enced any­thing first­hand.”

Ful­ton Cy­cle Works, John­son’s busi­ness, was lo­cated at 1424 Ful­ton St. The store­front, with its large front win­dows and or­nate decor, is part of the his­toric Warnors The­atre Com­plex.

Here’s what’s in­ter­est­ing: Root Gen­eral is also lo­cated at 1424 Ful­ton Street. In May 2016, soon af­ter John­son moved out, Kirk and Cassey James moved in.

“We re­ally haven’t had one neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ence,” Cassey James said.

I thought about the Jame­ses – and John­son – while read­ing a re­cent news story about the de­cline in down­town Fresno crime.

Did you see these fig­ures? From 2017 to 2018, rob­beries dipped 43.8 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to Fresno Po­lice De­part­ment statis­tics. Ve­hi­cle bur­glar­ies are down 55.4 per­cent, other bur­glar­ies 25 per­cent, rob­beries 43.8 per­cent, larce­nies 11.5 per­cent and ve­hi­cle thefts 31 per­cent.

Read­ing about these de­clines, as well as hear­ing the dis­parate sto­ries told by two busi­ness own­ers at the same lo­ca­tion, prompted me to start ask­ing ques­tions.

Did the re­open­ing of Ful­ton Street, in Oc­to­ber 2017, play a role by bring­ing more foot and car traf­fic (i.e. eyes on the street) to Fresno’s ur­ban core? Have the po­lice adopted dif­fer­ent, more suc­cess­ful strate­gies?

Or, as ex­pressed by the naysay­ers on Face­book and in the com­ments sec­tion, are the po­lice sim­ply driv­ing crim­i­nals out of down­town and into neigh­bor­ing ar­eas like the Tower Dis­trict?

What I learned is there’s no easy, straight­for­ward an­swer. Plus ev­ery­one’s per­sonal truth is based on their own ex­pe­ri­ences. (Oh, and the Tower Dis­trict crime stats also show de­creases in both vi­o­lent and prop­erty crime dur­ing 2018. So scratch that the­ory.)

If you’re some­one who had his car bro­ken into while at­tend­ing a con­cert at Sel­land Arena or a base­ball game at Chukchansi Park, your at­ti­tude to­ward down­town Fresno will likely be a cer­tain way — re­gard­less what the stats say.

But if you’re some­one who had a pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence down­town, or wants to see new restau­rants, bars, re­tail stores and lofts, the stats re­in­force things are get­ting safer.

Crime de­ter­rence in down­town Fresno be­gins at 7 a.m., which is when Sgt. Al­fonso Castillo re­ports to work.

Castillo heads up the Down­town Po­lice Unit, part of Fresno PD’s South­west Dis­trict. The all-vol­un­teer unit con­sists of Castillo and five of­fi­cers who pa­trol by bi­cy­cle and squad car.

The DPU typ­i­cally works a day shift. But when there are evening events, such as ArtHop or a Fresno FC match, of­fi­cers flex their shifts and oth­ers are brought in from pa­trol to bol­ster the ranks.

“It takes the right of­fi­cer who un­der­stands the im­por­tance of down­town and doesn’t mind work­ing week­ends and some­times work­ing nights,” Castillo said. “And not get de­terred with the fact that you’re go­ing to be ar­rest­ing the same sus­pect per­haps through­out the year. We have to keep it up.”

Most of the crimes in down­town Fresno are com­mit­ted by the same peo­ple over and over, Castillo said. Po­lice know who these peo­ple are. So they track court ap­pear­ances, re­lease dates and serve friendly re­minders.

“So that the mo­ment they get out we go say hello. ‘We’re still here. Noth­ing has changed,’ “Castillo said. “That hap­pens, ac­tu­ally, on a daily ba­sis.”

It isn’t just po­lice. The DPU works with two pri­vate se­cu­rity com­pa­nies hired by the Down­town Fresno Part­ner­ship to do nightly pa­trols of streets, park­ing lots and garages.

The work is co­or­di­nated. For ex­am­ple, if pri­vate se­cu­rity sees a home­less-look­ing per­son sleep­ing in a garage, they’ll snap his or her pic­ture and send it to the DPU as part of a nightly re­port. From the photo, Castillo and his of­fi­cers can tell if this per­son has a his­tory of break­ing into ve­hi­cles.

In ad­di­tion, down­town Fresno has the largest con­cen­tra­tion of video sur­veil­lance cam­eras in the city in­clud­ing about 25 new cam­eras on Ful­ton Street. The DPU, in con­junc­tion with de­part­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tors, uses the footage to write search and ar­rest war­rants.

“With more peo­ple com­ing down­town, the more proac­tive and ag­gres­sive we need to be in­ves­ti­gat­ing crime,” Castillo said.

Com­mu­nity polic­ing also plays a part. The DPU doesn’t just drive by in pa­trol cars peer­ing through mir­rored sun­glasses. While on bikes, of­fi­cers are vis­i­ble and ap­proach­able. Through in­ter­ac­tions with busi­ness own­ers and res­i­dents, of­fi­cers have built re­la­tion­ships and trust.

“We’ve got­ten to know a lot of the cops on a first­name ba­sis, which is great,” Kirk James said. “It adds to the over­all feel­ing of safety.”

I’m guess­ing the coowner of Root Gen­eral would feel dif­fer­ently if the win­dows of his busi­ness had been smashed over and over and his mer­chan­dise stolen. Like what hap­pened to the owner of Ful­ton Cy­cle Works, now lo­cated in Han­ford.

Which is why crime stats, just by them­selves, will never con­vince the naysay­ers that down­town Fresno is safe. You have to go there, walk around a bit and ex­pe­ri­ence for your­self.

JOHN WALKER [email protected]­nobee.com

Bike pa­trol mem­bers of the Down­town Fresno Po­lice Unit, T.J. Moore, left, and Sgt. Al­fonso Castillo, pa­trol Ful­ton Street on Feb. 28.

JOHN WALKER [email protected]­nobee.com

T.J. Moore, bike pa­trol mem­ber of the Down­town Po­lice Unit, (nick­name on the street: “Gummy Bear”) gets a gig­gle out of 4-year-old Elara Ar­royo af­ter giv­ing her a badge sticker as she and par­ents Ed­ward and April Ar­royo visit Ful­ton Street on Feb. 28.

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