Solving crime with a skeleton police force

When it comes to solving crimes, this sleepy Peninsula city knows a thing or two about getting more done with less.

San Carlos spends less on police services per capita than similar cities in San Mateo County and has fewer officers to go around, but its ability to find and arrest suspects hasn’t suffered. In 2005, local police cleared 55 percent of its 31 violent crimes, 21 percent of its 105 burglaries and 11.7 percent of its 419 larcenies, according to U.S. Department of Justice numbers from 2005.

Cities such as Burlingame, Belmont and Foster City spent more money on police services and employed more officers, but didn’t match San Carlos’ clearance rate — which refers to any timeinvestigators arrest a suspect or issue an arrest warrant, according to San Carlos police Chief Greg Rothaus.

So what’s San Carlos’ secret to success? Officers spend 40 percent or more of their time out on patrol, Rothaus said.

“We’ve gained in efficiency from our dispatch merger with Menlo Park, and we’ve been using non-sworn personnel to handle some functions, including crime-scene processing,” Rothaus said. That gives the city’s 39 to 42 officers time to respond to the calls they get from the public and patrol the streets.

Knowing the community is key to solving crimes, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

“If the citizenry feels comfortable talking, that gives officers avenues of travel,” Wagstaffe said. Sufficient staffing is also key.

“We’re down to 42 officers, whereas five to 10 years ago, we had 48 to 50,” Burlingame Police Department Cmdr. Mike Matteucci said.

Burlingame, which spends more on police and has more officers per capita thanSan Carlos, had similar success solving violent crimes in 2005 — 48 percent of 68 such crimes — but solved 9.7 percent of its 28 robberies and 3.4 percent of its 697 larcenies, according to the DOJ.

Policing Burlingame is complicated by the fact that it can have up to 5,000 additional residents in local hotels, and throngs of shoppers are drawn to the city’s downtown area, according to Matteucci.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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