When the Top Cop Grants the Interview

For her crime story assignment, one ambitious student who was already reporting and news gathering in her beat neighborhood dutifully filled out an online form to interview a police chief – why not ask?  She was relaxing at home the next day when her phone rang. The police chief! Not even a PR officer intermediary! As she recounted to her impressed (and amused) classmates much later, she popped open her laptop, apologized to the chief for a slight delay and immediately figured out what questions to ask. The chief replied that he was “very familiar with college journalism.”

After my student described aloud her momentary shock at landing the interview so fast, I asked the rest of the group what lessons might be gleaned from the chief’s call. As another student put it, “If you’re not ready, then GET ready.”

By Ashley Loaeza

The city of Concord has a reputation for attracting business ventures – a fourth major shopping center is scheduled to open this fall – but it also attracts crimes such as burglary and theft.

In a city council meeting earlier this month, Concord Police Chief Guy Swanger reported that larceny — which includes petty theft, grand theft and car burglaries — has gone up 9 percent since last year.

According to Swanger, grand theft cases have increased from 59 to 133 cases.

Organized retail theft has also increased from eight cases to 45 cases. The criminal enterprise consists of a group of people who steal merchandise and have resale plans.

Swanger called Sunvalley Mall a hotspot with stores such as JCPenney, Macy’s, Pink and Victoria’s Secret targeted the most.

In a follow-up interview, Swanger said that as far as shoplifting goes, there is not much police can do because Proposition 47 “decriminalized” it. Proposition 47, passed in November 2014, reduced certain nonviolent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors unless the defendant has prior convictions for murder, rape, certain sex offenses or certain gun crimes, according to ballotpedia.org

Proposition 47 also reclassified shoplifting and grand theft as misdemeanors instead of felonies where the value of property stolen does not exceed $950.

“You think it’s a simple theft problem, but it’s happening for a particular reason,” Swanger said.

As a result, the Concord police have not been able to address or solve the theft issue since most of the thieves cannot go to jail.

“Organized retail theft is what you’re seeing,” Swanger said. “Or it’s breaking into cars at a shopping mall, and they’re all treated as misdemeanors. People don’t go to jail anymore. It’s not a police problem anymore.”

The issue is ultimately in the hands of mall security and it has to be dealt with “civilly versus criminally,” Swanger said.

Not only has retail theft been an issue, but so have car burglaries.

According to an East Bay Times report in September, car break-ins remain a concern, particularly in Sunvalley Mall and Willows Shopping Center parking lots, where 20 percent of the city’s auto burglaries occur.

Concord police aren’t much help, but neither are Sunvalley Mall security.

Elaine Park works at Sunvalley Mall and after four years of working there, she got her car broken into last month.

“Mall security needs to patrol more and be alert, especially in the parking lot when there’s a lot of people,” Park said. “My car was sitting there for five hours with the window busted, and I didn’t even know. They just left a note on my window.”

With so much crime occurring in Concord’s major shopping centers, questions arise whether the Veranda, a 375,000-square-foot shopping center opening in the fall, might experience the same.

According to Swanger, this is not a possibility.

Because the Veranda is U-shaped, all stores will face the parking lot, Swanger said.

“Everyone is looking out into the front and into the parking lot,” the police chief said of the shopping center. “Therefore, we will have fewer break-ins. At Sunvalley, the stores are in the middle, inside of the mall. All of the parking is on the outside, not visible to anyone.”

Note:  The crime victim’s name has been changed to Elaine Park for this story for safety reasons.

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