Concord chief, council worried about DA’s lack of ­prosecutions

Concord chief, council worried about DA’s lack of ­prosecutions

CONCORD, CA — As the Concord City Council reviewed updated crime statistics on Mar. 23, Police Chief Mark Bustillos and council members expressed frustration about the lack of prosecution for repeat offenders.

“Over the course of the last few weeks, we’ve pretty much seen the same person – or one or two people – and they’ve hit the same businesses and they’ve actually caused damage to now five or six places,” said Mayor Tim McGallian. “And it’s even the same person that decided to come into City Hall and actually broke into City Hall and robbed City Hall.”

According to city attorney Susanne Brown, the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office has opted not to prosecute certain misdemeanors – so-called “quality of life crimes” such as narcotics possession, petty theft, shoplifting and disorderly conduct.

“The reason was to focus on high-level crimes such as gang violence and felonies,” Brown told the council during the virtual meeting. “The issue is that while they’re not high-level crimes in terms of what the district attorney is dealing with, they directly affect the quality of life of us community members in Concord.”

Considering local prosecution

Councilman Edi Birsan asked Brown for an update on a proposal to have a Concord-based adjudication court.
“If they’re not gonna do it in Martinez, maybe there’s some way that we can do it here that will give us a sense of justice – and justice quick,” he said.

Brown said it may be possible for the city to prosecute certain crimes but only with the permission of the district attorney. She says there have been discussions with the chief and his staff on the concept.

Later, McGallian told the Pioneer the idea was in “real simple planning stages,” adding that “there’s a limited amount we can do, legally.”

Brown said one approach could be to focus on diversion programs to help avoid recidivism. “The diversion would be to try to get these folks into treatment – mental health treatment, alcohol treatment, drug treatment – because those are typically the root causes of some of these repeated crimes,” she said.

Bustillos pointed to the city’s upcoming Mental Health Evaluation Team (MHET) pilot program to help provide such interventions. “We’re gonna already know who some of these folks are, because we’ve had frequent interactions with them.”

Political pressure

The chief encouraged council members to bring their concerns to the district attorney.

“We will continue to arrest those folks. We’ll try to bundle cases, cajole, guilt, shame, whatever, get some charges put on some people,” Bustillos said. “But we have a strong headwind. … The rest of the justice system is doing what they want, going through their great experiment, and we have no control over that.”

A new state Senate bill, SB 82, could further muddy the waters by downgrading some felony robberies to misdemeanors. The bill would redefine a robbery without the use of a weapon or Great Bodily Injury to the lesser charge of petty theft.

On March 30, a coalition of California district attorneys, police, business leaders and crime victims held a news conference to express opposition to the bill.

COVID’s impact on crime

In reviewing Concord’s five-year stats, Bustillos said crime in the city is “fairly consistent.” That said, the COVID pandemic and Shelter-In-Place orders likely affected crime levels over the last 12 months.

Comparing 2020 to 2019, rapes were down 43 percent (67 to 38), robberies down 26 percent (234 to 172), larceny-thefts down 25 percent (3,512 to 2,621) and aggravated assaults down 7 percent (228 to 211). Burglaries, however, were up 7 percent (434 to 467) and motor vehicle thefts went up 13 percent (614 to 695). The homicide rate was unchanged, with three deaths in each year.

Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister expressed concern that the decrease in rapes may actually be due to a lack of reporting. “There isn’t really a place for them to go because of the pandemic, so they’re just tolerating it because they don’t have any other choice,” she said.

Acknowledging the potential for underreporting, the chief said he expected an increase in rape cases as restrictions continue to be lifted.

Efforts on gangs, the homeless

On a positive note, the chief noted that police seized 116 firearms in 2020.

“Each firearm we take off the street, or take off a person during an investigation, in my experience represents multiple felony crimes,” he said, adding that none of those firearms were owned legally.

The joint Operation Boulevard Blues sweep also had an impact on gang activity in Concord, with several people in leadership roles jailed.

“But as with any organization, the younger generation is up and coming and we’ll have to establish who that leadership is,” he said. “But to the eye, when you drive and look at some of the locations that were quote ‘hangouts,’ there are fewer.”

As for another chronic issue in Concord, the chief said his department follows county protocols for when to break up homeless encampments.

“Unless there are health and safety code violations or criminal violations, we’re not moving encampments,” he said. “But when there are needles, health and safety violations, open flames in fields, peeking on neighbors, defecating on neighbor’s lawns or backyards, making neighbors feel captive within their home, then we are going in, doing the process of tagging encampments, using the CORE (Coordinated Outreach Referral Engagement team) to see if we can get people some services and then abating the encampments.”