Last Monday, San Rafael staff submitted their proposed budget. Among the cuts is a $380,000 item to cut the San Rafael Police Department's Street Crimes Unit. Two of the four officers charged with this task are retiring, and the proposal on the table would leave those two positions open. The remaining two officers would be rolled into the general SRPD patrol force, leaving them to react to crime that happens rather than intercept crime before it happens.
This is a problem.
SCU is a division of the San Rafael Police Department (SRPD) that proactively addresses criminality, from vagrancy to vandalism to gang violence. Their mission is to make the streets safer for residents and businesses by working with federal and state law enforcement, building relationships with communities, and intercepting crime before it becomes a problem.
Units like SCU are vital to a city’s crime-fighting force. A proactive approach shines a light into the darker places of a city, ensuring that even crimes that occur in private are addressed, even if nobody calls it in to 911. This takes pressure off 911 and patrols who otherwise have to deal with the results of those private crimes: drugs, gangs, vandalism, and a general feeling of lawlessness that breeds more crime.
Tamping down on the reactive arrests reduces costs to the county by reducing the number of arrests and the severity of the crimes, meaning fewer and lighter prison sentences and less complicated prosecutions.
San Rafael does have these problems. It’s home to two rival gangs, the Norteños in Terra Linda and Novato, and the Sureños in the Canal, and it's likely they were involved in a Gerstle Park gang killing last year. A recent crackdown on crime in eastern downtown led to 79 arrests for everything from vandalism to drugs, while downtown merchants south of Fourth often report shady goings-on by their stores.
By keeping crime at a minimum, San Rafael will be helping its merchant core, ensuring demand for new retail and boosting sales taxes at existing places of business. Though downtown is most visible to Marinites, boosting business in the Canal also requires pushing out criminality and fostering a sense of safety for merchants and shoppers.
Cutting SCU would be a mistake. The institutional knowledge of the force would wear away while under the aegis of general patrol, while the crime addressed by SCU would rise. Though it may save money in the short-term, cutting SCU would mean a less vibrant downtown and lower tax receipts. San Rafael is right to find ways to balance its budget, but it shouldn’t do so by eating its seed corn.