Jan 7, 2014 6:52 PM by April Hansen, KSBY

SM in top 10 most violent cities in CA, but police chief says the numbers are skewed

A recently released FBI report ranked Santa Maria as the 10th most violent city in California in 2012, but Santa Maria Police Chief Ralph Martin says a closer look at the numbers tells a much different story.

The annual crime reporting program looks at the number of violent crimes in a city, such as murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.

City leaders believe the numbers for Santa Maria are skewed. Chief Martin says the police department has been over-reporting some of its numbers.

He says in the past five years, all domestic assault cases have been documented as aggravated assaults, but cities aren't required to report domestic assaults in this category.

"The devils are really in the details here," said Chief Martin. "If you drill into the numbers and take a look at it you'll find out Santa Maria is no different than any other city with 100,000 (people)."

So the department took another look at one of the categories -- aggravated assaults. Chief Martin says an aggravated assault is an incident in which someone has sustained a major injury and/or there was a weapon involved.

"Only about 10% of domestic violence cases involve some type of injury or aggravated assault so if you have 300 a year that's only about 30," said Chief Martin.

He says that is where the department found the error.

The city has recorded more than 500 aggravated assaults every year since 2009, then they went back and took out the domestic violence cases that should not be in that category. The number dropped significantly to 173 in 2013.

"Santa Maria is a safe city," said Chief Martin.

He says having a high-profile murder case last year also hasn't helped the city's image.

"We had a very brutal torture occur in March of 2013 and we had 11 suspects. Certainly that is going to make the news and make it sound like the city is very violent, but that is one incident," said Chief Martin.

He says now that the department found the problem with its violent crime numbers, the attention has turned to another category -- car thefts.

"We average about two every day and this year, in 2013, is going to show around 600 to 700 stolen vehicles and it's really incredible because so many can be prevented," Martin said.

Chief Martin says every city is required by law to report crimes to the FBI and the state.

The most violent city rankings only compare communities with a population over 100,000, which is why you don't see San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara on the list. According to the FBI's crime report, San Luis Obispo had one murder in 2012 and 29 aggravated assaults. Santa Barbara had zero murders, but 219 aggravated assaults that same year.



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