While detectives look for clues to a crime, members of the local sheriff’s Crime Prevention Unit look for trends in crime.
“It’s like fishing,” Sgt. Daniel Dantice of the CPU told The Signal on Friday, while behind him a bank of detectives assigned to eight geographic SCV “zone” areas crunched data to spot trends.
“You figure out, geographically, where the crime trend is at, then you target who’s doing it,” he said.
Take car burglaries. Regularly, on the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station Facebook page, SCV residents and car owners are being reminded daily to lock their vehicles at night and not to keep valuables in them.
“Car burglaries may be sporadic, where you get three or four in one night,” Dantice said, noting the incident may be an isolated event.
“But, if you get three car burglaries one night, then two the next night, and then three the following night, that might be trend,” he said.
Such scrutiny paid to reported crimes is what makes the CPU team one of the most effective crime-fighting units in the department.
Case in point: a rash of recurring, night after night, car burglaries on Jakes Way.
“The No. 1 reason for car burglaries is opportunity,” Dantice said, noting that is what the data tells them and that is what the team tells the public.
In mid-January, Canyon Country residents suffered through the recurring problem — a problem, which when reported, registered with CPU members able to identify a trend.
One night, thieves trashed more than 20 vehicles parked at Jakes Way alarming residents who woke to discover the vandalism.
A woman filed a report with Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station.
She wasn’t the first Jakes Way resident to report the rash of vehicle break-ins. “The officer said that it was a total of 20 cars this happened to,” the woman told The Signal in January.
Because residents made the effort to report, CPU deputies were able to see a pattern clearly, with the same thing happening three nights in the same week.
“If something happens two or three nights in a row, then we adjust our schedules and we respond,” Dantice said.
An arrest was made, and the crime trend stopped.
The CPU team under Dantice is made up of five deputies, one sergeant and an assistant.
Lt. Chuck Becerra oversees all of the station’s specialty squads, including the CPU.
The key to identifying crime trends hinges on the amount of data submitted by concerned residents, he said. And, on that score, community interaction becomes the life blood of CPU’s ability to identify crime trends.
The more data CPU deputies manning each of SCV’s eight neighborhood zones, the more accurately the crime trends can be identified.
To that end, the CPU interacts regularly with neighborhood groups and Homeowner Associations, Dantice said.
Does the public’s increased participation in social media apps, such as Nextdoor, help the CPU reduce crime by nipping it in the bud with crime trend identification?
The short answer, sadly, is: No.
The Nextdoor network operates on a membership basis, wherein, residents of a neighborhood can weigh in car burglaries, missing pets and suspicious doorbell ringers.
If Nextdoor Neighbor participants want effective response from the CPU team, however, they have to notify the sheriff – pick up the phone, send an email, visit the station – but report.
CPU team members are the ones who respond to complex problems.
Homelessness, as a crime trend, is often married with drugs and/or mental issues.
The CPU is the team that shows up in its special van — as it did a couple of months ago when a homeless woman exhibited a myriad of issues — obese, suicidal, unemployed.
The woman was taken by CPU deputies to caregivers at the Bridge to Home, where she was expected to receive care and attention.
“To grab them, jail them, rotate them through court with a low-class misdemeanor is not solving the problem,” Dantice told The Signal at the time.
“Instead, we try to develop a program where we can work with agencies that can help these people,” he said.
About three years ago, city staffers and sheriff’s deputies with the CPU began carrying out monthly sweeps of homeless camps set up inside the Santa Clara River.
“They know the program. They leave but come back in a couple of days,” Dantice said. “But, we continually do it because it makes a difference.
“We are not allowing them to establish a colony,” he said.
Before the monthly cleanups began, homeless camps were found to be more structured than the camp found Thursday on the Whittaker-Bermite property.
“They had been living there for years, and they had built structures,” Dantice said.
When the monthly sweeps began of homeless camps, deputies brought in representatives of several agencies to form a multi-agency team all for the purpose of tackling homelessness.
Agencies include the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, Veterans Affairs and Behavioral Health Services.
“Now, we’re streamlined, thanks to the help we’re getting from Bridge to Home,” Dantice said. “(Bridge to Home staff) tell them what’s available to them.”