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Local cops keep crime in check

February 2, 2012

The Bishop Police Department’s crime statistics for 2010 and 2011 are nearly identical. Statistics from the California Highway Patrol show an increase in many violations, especially seat belt compliance, up more than 40 percent in 2011 compared to 2010. File photo

The numbers have been tallied and crime statistics from 2011 are now available from the three local law enforcement agencies – the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department, the Bishop Police Department and the California Highway Patrol.
Overall, crime is and has been relatively low in the city and county. In fact, the BPD figures from 2010 and 2011 are nearly identical. However, violations committed on local roads and highways have risen, with the standout being seat belt violations, up 46 percent from 2010, equalling an additional 232 citations.

California Highway Patrol

CHP Commander Andria Witmer told the Bishop City Council at its last meeting that accidents were all down compared to 2010, including fatalities, down 12 percent, injury accidents, down 22 percent and total collisions, down 10 percent.
But, Witmer said, the numbers the CHP really focuses on are the “Big Three” that, statistically “are the major causes of loss of life.” These three are speed enforcement, seat belt compliance and driving under the influence. And, Witmer said, more citations were written for these three violations in 2011 than in 2010.
Speed enforcement violations are up eight percent, totalling 744 more citations than in 2010, D.U.I. violations are up 11 percent, or 24 more people arrested for that offense than last year, and seat belt violations are up a whooping 46 percent for an additional 232 citations.
Witmer gave an example of how seat belts can save lives. She said that in one fatal accident in 2010, a driver who was not wearing a seat belt was killed while the passenger that was buckled up walked away from the crash, almost without a scratch.
She added that she did not have the details for each citation to determine whether the locals or tourists are the biggest violators. But, traffic numbers are nearly identical in 2009 to 2010 and the volume decreased in 2011, according to Witmer and information available from Caltrans.
She said there are some basic lessons to be learned from the numbers, “Slow down, drive sober and take driving more seriously. It only takes a split second of inattention.”
According to the final accident report from Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team, the  multi-fatality vehicle collision from Aug. 2010 on U.S. 395 that killed four and injured 15 can be blamed on a moment of inattention or distraction by one of the drivers.
Being tired can lead to inattention as well, she said, and can be especially deadly when mixed with fast speeds. She explained that a person loses more and more peripheral vision at higher speeds and the body tends to only look 50 to 100 feet ahead when tired. Witmer said this is called “low visual horizon.”
Combinations or extremes of any of these conditions can lead to a driver allowing a vehicle to drift off the road. Witmer said the next big mistake people make in these situations is to panic, which can lead to jerking the steering wheel, over-correcting and a possible roll-over or collision with other vehicles.
She described driving as getting behind the wheel of a 3,000-pound bullet and that anyone, with the best of intentions or skills, can still kill someone with a vehicle.
“Stay calm and focused,” Witmer said.
  Witmer is in charge of the biggest geographic area in the state that includes all of Inyo County, including Death Valley and Shoshone and jurisdiction on U.S. 6 to the Nevada state line.

Bishop Police Department

Police Chief Chris Carter compiled statistics and made them available for this story.
The most noticeable fact when viewing the crime figures for 2010 and 2011 side-by-side is the near identical numbers from both years. And, in 2011 the BPD was short one officer, meaning activity for both years was similar but officers were busier last year than in 2010.
The difference in the total number of calls for service from 2010 and 2011 is just under 1,000 calls; in 2010 the BPD responded to 14,496 and in 2011 officers responded to 15,489. Other examples of nearly identical numbers include; felony crimes, 102 in ’10 and 104 in ’11; actual reports taken totalled 1,009 last year and 975 in ’10; and, total citations written in ’10 equalled 1,538 and in ’11 total citations amounted to 1,459.
Carter said overall he was very pleased with the low crime rate and no major increases in any category.
Speaking to the near matching numbers and figures, Carter said he could only speculate on a correlation. He explained that Bishop has a relatively stable population base, not a lot of growth and relatively small jurisdiction that makes it “difficult to be anonymous.”
He added that, historically, there is a correlation between rough economic times and an increase in crime, but he said nationally and locally, that is not necessarily the case. Carter said it is perhaps recognition by the federal government and offering, for example, unemployment benefit extensions, that have kept crime relatively low, but he said he was only speculating.
According to numbers and statistics compiled by the state’s Office of the Attorney General, both violent and property crimes have steadily dropped since 1990.
There is also a very strong and presence of law enforcement in the community when the CHP, the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department and Bishop’s finest are all on the job. These teams all cooperate well as is evident in the many multi-agency investigations and incidents handled by more than one agency.
“There are no egos getting in the way,” Carter said.
One long-standing problem at the department that the Inyo County Grand Jury has remarked on for years, is a lack of space at the facility. The department makes due with mindful organization  and has looked at relocating, but nothing has come through. Carter explained that there are hefty building requirements for a police headquarters as the building has to be able to sustain a number of different attacks or scenarios. He said a police house must be able to be a “last building standing” to maintain operational headquarters in the case of an emergency.

Inyo County Sheriff’s Department

The Sheriff’s Department has been busy as well, however, technical difficulties at the Record’s Office and insufficient data available through other sources has prevented a concise comparison of 2010 and 2011 numbers.
The Inyo County Sheriff’s Office could provide hard numbers of how many crimes were committed in 2011. Some big numbers include 80 domestic violence incidents, 44 batteries, 29 felony batteries, 83 vandalism violations and 108 disorderly conduct violations, all of which were alcohol related, but these numbers mean little without a comparison. There were a total of 515 citations written by deputies in 2011.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has invented a Crime Index for comparing cities, counties and states with a national average. The index are scores for an area that are compared to the national average of 100. A score of 200 indicates twice the national average total crime risk, while 50 indicates half the national risk.
The Total Crime Risk Index for the county is 60, the state is 97. The murder risk index for Inyo is 33, 123 for the state and 199 for Los Angeles County, the robbery risk index for Inyo is five, compared to 124 for the state.
And, motor vehicle theft risk index for Inyo is 48 and 160 for the state, compared to Los Angeles County with a 223 for vehicle theft.

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