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An arson fire in the 300 block of Cesar Chavez Boulevard in Calexico in late November 2020 was one of several intentionally set blazes during the month, according to Calexico fire officials. Many of the fires, one captain said, were believed to have been set by transients. Calexico has 56 arsons reported in 2019 and 2020, more than any other agency. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO

FBI: Crime in Imperial County Down in 2 Major Areas for 2020

Property and Violent Offenses Drop 6.3 Percent Cumulatively from 2019 for Most Local Agencies

Between five major law enforcement agencies in Imperial County, both property and violent crimes decreased in number in 2020 compared to the previous year, but there were spikes in certain cities and crime categories.

The number of reported estimated violent crimes in Imperial County dropped 2.8 percent, from 574 reported cases to 558, according to FBI crime statistics released on Monday, Sept. 27.

El Centro Deputy Police Chief Robert Sawyer speaks during an El Centro City Council meeting earlier in 2021. | VIDEO CAPTURE

However, police departments in El Centro and Imperial reported a rise in violent crime; El Centro went from 143 in 2019 to 158 in 2020 and Imperial rose from five to nine incidents in the same period.

“While violent crime in El Centro has increased in the last year, it’s consistent with what law enforcement sees across the United States. We recognize addressing violent crime is our responsibility, and the shortage of law enforcement applicants, both here in El Centro and throughout the nation, enter into how we go about addressing violent crime,” Deputy El Centro Police Chief Robert Sawyer said on Tuesday, Sept. 28. “Recruitment and retention is a key issue on how police and sheriff’s departments address these issues. Without proper staffing, it’s very difficult to formulate plans and put them in action.”

For homicides, however, Brawley was the only community to see its numbers increase from two reported cases in 2019 to four in 2020. The number of homicides in El Centro decreased from three to one over that same reporting period, and the Imperial County Sheriff’s Office decreased from two homicides in 2019 to one in 2020. No others were reported.

The local agencies surveyed were Imperial County Sheriff’s Office, and the El Centro, Calexico, Brawley, and Imperial police departments.

The Calexico Chronicle and Holtville Chronicle will be doing a follow-up story next week with a deeper dive into the statistics for all local reporting agencies, which also include the local station of California Highway Patrol, Westmorland and Calipatria police departments, the Holtville substation of the Sheriff’s Office, and the Union Pacific Railroad police.

Those statistics and others can be found here.

Meanwhile, for property crimes, the raw estimates show Imperial County’s numbers dropped by 4.5 percent, from 3,340 in 2019 to 3,190 in 2020.

The anomaly in that trend came from the Sheriff’s Office, which saw its number of estimated property crimes reported rise sharply from 588 in 2019 to 711 in 2020.

Sheriff’s officials could not immediately be reached for comment, but property crime, especially in agricultural-related businesses, were impacted greatly in 2020. In July, deputies reported a burglary and theft ring that involved some 15 Imperial Valley residents who allegedly stole about $200,000 in property dating back to July 2020.

Another area that saw some increases in 2020 were in arsons, and at least one police official said that is tied to the homeless population.

Calexico firefighters extinguish an arson fire in the 300 block of Cesar Chavez Boulevard in Calexico in late November 2020, one of several intentionally set blazes during the month, according to Calexico fire officials. Many of the fires, one captain said, were believed to have been set by transients. Calexico has 56 arsons reported in 2019 and 2020, more than any other agency. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO

Although in Calexico, the number of arsons did not rise from 2019 as it had some of other cities, the border region sees more arson far and away than any other department.

Calexico Police Chief Gonzalo Gerardo stands next to a patrol vehicle in July. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO

Calexico has 56 arsons reported in 2019 and 2020. After that, the Sheriff’s Office had 35 reported in 2020, up from 22 a year earlier. Brawley Police Department saw its numbers increase from 15 in 2019 to 28. El Centro went from seven to eight in one year.

“Most of the homes and places that were set on fire were abandoned buildings and 90 percent of those buildings were occupied by homeless people,” Calexico Police Chief Gonzalo Gerardo said on Tuesday, Sept. 28. “Our suspicions are when the homeless were kicked out by the property owners, they went back and set it on fire.”

He added that because of COVID, even a major felony like arson saw convicted arsonists released earlier than usual. A couple repeat arsonists were arrested in Calexico over the past couple of years.

Also, Gerardo said, his officers suspect that some of the fires could have been insurance related, but he said he’s not stating that as fact, only suspicion.

For the first time in four years, the estimated number of violent crimes nationally increased by 5.6 percent compared with the previous year. Property crimes, however, dropped 7.8 percent, marking the 18th consecutive year the collective estimates for these offenses declined, according the FBI’s National Press Office news release.

The 2020 statistics show the estimated rate of violent crime was 387.8 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants, and the estimated rate of property crime was 1,958.2 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants. The violent crime rate rose 5.2 percent when compared with the 2019 rate; the property crime rate declined 8.1 percent.

These and additional data are presented in the 2020 edition of the FBI’s annual report Crime in the United States, according to the release. This report is available as downloadable spreadsheets and topic pages about offenses, arrests, and police employee data reported by law enforcement agencies voluntarily participating in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program.

The old Elks Lodge fire in in Calexico in January 2020.

The UCR Program collects information on crimes reported by law enforcement agencies regarding the violent crimes of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, as well as the property crimes of burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson. (The FBI classifies arson as a property crime but does not estimate arson data because of variations in the level of participation by the reporting agencies. Consequently, arson data is not included in the property crime estimate.) The program also collects arrest data for the offenses listed above and 20 offenses that include all other crimes except traffic violations.

Of the 18,619 federal, state, county, city, university and college, and tribal agencies eligible to participate in the UCR Program, 15,897 agencies submitted data in 2020. A high-level summary of the statistics submitted, as well as estimates for those agencies that did not report, follows:

  • In 2020, there were an estimated 1,277,696 violent crimes. When compared with the estimates from 2019, the estimated number of robbery offenses fell 9.3 percent and the estimated volume of rape (revised definition) offenses decreased 12.0 percent. The estimated number of aggravated assault offenses rose 12.1 percent, and the volume of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter offenses increased 29.4 percent.
  • Nationwide, there were an estimated 6,452,038 property crimes. The estimated numbers for two of the three property crimes showed declines when compared with the previous year’s estimates. Burglaries dropped 7.4 percent, larceny-thefts decreased 10.6 percent, while motor vehicle thefts rose 11.8 percent.
  • Collectively, victims of property crimes (excluding arson) suffered losses estimated at $17.5 billion in 2020.
  • The FBI estimated law enforcement agencies nationwide made 7.6 million arrests, (excluding those for traffic violations) in 2020.
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