Part 1 crimes reported in Menifee in 2013 decreased by 12.2 percent over the previous year, according to numbers released by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department and the City of Menifee.
In the last calendar year, there were 1,782 reported Part 1 crimes -- defined as crimes that are reported to the FBI. That is down from 2,029 in 2012.
The decrease is seen primarily in significant reductions in burglary (-22.9 percent) and larceny-theft (-11.7 percent), resulting in a reduction in overall property crime of 13.3 percent (1,683 crimes in 2013, compared to 1,942 the year before).
Although the total reported incidents of violent crime is much less than the number of property crimes, that category has seen a 13.8 increase over the previous year (99, up from 87 in 2012). Most significant, there was a 19 percent increase in aggravated assaults and a 12.5 percent increase in reported robberies.
By comparison, the overall crime data reported for all of Riverside County shows a 5.9 percent decrease in Part 1 crimes; a 15.7 decrease in violent crimes; and a 5 percent decrease in property crime. Homicides in Riverside County rose 44 percent, however.
"I'm very pleased with the overall numbers for Menifee," he said. "You have to understand some of the factors involved. Because some of the numbers are so low to start with, any increase seems like a lot."
For example, homicides in Menifee increased from one in 2012 to three in 2013 -- most notably the deaths of Terry Smith Jr. and Darlene Flynn. That indicates an increase of 200 percent. The totals themselves are low, however.
"I challenge you to go to any other city with 83,000 people that has only three homicides," he said. "Of course, the goal is always to have zero crimes. What we've observed is that throughout the area, there is an average increase of about 16 percent in violent crimes.
"It's good to see an overall decrease of 12 percent in Menifee. But we're going through a growth pattern. Does this mean crime will go down again next year? There are too many factors involved to speculate."
Another point of discussion is the size of the Menifee police force, which is contracted with the city through the Riverside County Sheriff's Department. The guideline for law enforcement personnel per city as established by the County Board of Supervisors is 1.2 sworn officers per 1,000 population, Judge said. Currently, Menifee falls well short of that.
Judge said that the guideline must be interpreted on an individual basis according to the specifics of each city.
"Menifee police beats are 10 square miles," he said. "Some areas of the county are more rural. They may have beats of 200 square miles. The guideline is applied differently to each area.
"This doesn't mean that because Menifee is below that number, there has to be a significant change. But that said, the city manager and city council members have made it very clear that public safety must be a major priority in Menifee."
Menifee City Manager Rob Johnson said city staff and the city council is committed to increasing the size of the Menifee Police Department. Finding the funding is always a challenge, of course. According to city records, about 40 percent of the city's $22.6 million general fund goes toward funding of the police department ($9.02 million).
"This remains a huge priority and will be addressed in the next budget," said Johnson. "We have to factor in all the expenses for each additional officer: Payroll, health insurance, vacation, etc. But we've seen an uptick in development, which results in an increase in revenue. We have to continue to make public safety a priority."
Many residents have commented on the Menifee 24/7 Facebook page that they believe crime in the city has increased significantly. Another factor that should be considered, however, is increased crime reporting by media outlets such as Menifee 24/7, which increases public awareness of criminal activity. It should also be noted that this reports includes only major crimes in the Part 1 category.
"There's much more transparency now," Judge said about public awareness of local crimes. "Technology is more available to the public and there is an increase in media coverage."