Monday, January 21, 2008

Mayor Santos Still Believes Crime Is Down In San Leandro


When San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos asked a crowd of concerned citizens Tuesday night how many had been the victims of crime more than a majority raised their hand. “How many with two? How many with five or more? Anybody with more than 10?” The show of hands dwindled with each set until only the mayor’s hand was left.

“I’ve been there. I know the feeling. It’s no fun to be victimized. I lost thousands of dollars because of it,” said Mayor Santos.

San Leandro has been up in arms ever since an FBI report recently ranked the city as the ninth most dangerous city in the country and the infighting has centered on a distinct disconnect between what the mayor and police chief say are facts showing a drop in crime and what the public sees as a general demise of their quality of life.

“The perception is that everything is out of control, but the facts say the contrary,” Santos said.

While the FBI report contained data obtained solely from the city’s police department, the most recent date only goes back to 2005.

“We’ve all heard it. This town isn’t what it was 10 or 15 years ago. That’s true, because it isn’t. Ten or 15 years ago, the crime rate was about 25 percent higher,” Police Chief Dale S. Attarian said during Monday’s city council meeting.

In the last two years violent crime has dropped, according to Sgt. Attarian.

But doubts have been raised over the accuracy of the statistics the police are reporting to the FBI.

In a working session of the city council Monday night, Chief Attarian admitted that the computer system used to compile the crime statistics has given the department problems and is “not user-friendly”. The system was adopted in 2004.

Despite the figures that the mayor and police department give many in the city don’t buy the rosy state of affairs and have been uncommonly vociferous in the anger to the mayor’s stance that the furor is over a false perception of reality.

“This is the crux of the problem. We have elders. We have children. It’s not helping to give us statistics,” said Davis Street resident, Wafaa Aborashed.

In her neighborhood, a cyclone fence that separated Davis West and East was continually cut to allow criminals access to the area.

According to Aborashed, she waited a month for the city to fix the fence. In the meantime, the surrounding area was vandalized and tagged in numerous areas. It wasn’t until she called Cal Trans that the fence was repaired. She now says that crime and graffiti has subsided.

In the Mulford Gardens neighborhood adjacent to the San Leandro Marina the quality of life issue has also been more prevalent than the occurrences of violent crime.

Members of that home owners association voted to close a private, but well used park on Aurora Avenue across from Garfield Elementary School after gangs activity, small drug packets and used condoms were found on a regular basis.

The HOA had replaced the park’s wooden accoutrements with new slides, swings and bench and also made it compliant with the American with Disabilities Act.

“Kids say ‘Man, that’s not fair’ and I say, ‘You want me to go to your parents house and mess up your family room’,” said Mulford Gardens HOA president, Bo Johansen.

Down Aurora and on its bisecting streets frequently have teenagers loitering on street corners and bus stops after school and early evening.

Johansen admits there’s no other place in that area for kids to go, but will open the park on occasion. He also indicated that crime as decreased in the area after the park’s closure.

On Tuesday night, what was supposed to be a small meeting between the mayor and presidents of local HOA’s turned into, based on your perspective, an illustration of democracy at work or an example of mob government.

As the mayor continued to offer statistics to the overflow crowd of about 100 at the San Leandro Main library, many shouted disapproval or stood and made impassioned pleas to their concerns.

“We’re not being listened to. The people are upset,” said Johansen, “He skirts around the issue. This is what he always does.”

In some ways the mayor has opened himself up to the criticism that he’s not interested in people’s plight by only offering numbers and recommending people first must be proactive in their safety.

Al Lozano has lived in San Leandro for 43 years and works as a security consultant, took offense to the numerous times the mayor appeared to be smiling when people described their concerns.

“Look at him there grinning. Some of his comments were rude and disrespectful,” said Lozano.

Said Santos, “I was hoping to show empathy by saying, here I know the feeling.”

He also reiterated that the city trying to find solutions, but the public also needs to help themselves, especially in response to the city’s most notorious crime, car larceny.

Santos advocated making sure car doors are locked and put in the garage.

“I want people to say to themselves, ‘What should I do’,” said Santos, “I can’t watch every car in the city.”

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