LEMOORE — Police Chief Darrell Smith gave the Lemoore Police Department annual report during the Lemoore City Council study session on Feb. 19, and had some good news to share.
Along with quicker response times, Smith reported a decrease in every major crime category, including some of the lowest statistics the department has seen in years.
In the five years that Smith has been chief, he said his priority has always been to keep the public safe. While having a city with no crime may not be realistic, he said it has been his personal goal to get as close to that as possible.
The first issue Smith talked about was response times. He said in 2014 the response times for Priority 1 calls for service — meaning an immediate response/life threatening call — was an average of four minutes and 10 seconds.
He said he made it a priority to reduce response times, which now average three minutes and 40 seconds.
Speaking of calls for service, Smith said they increased by 16 percent in 2018 compared to the previous year, totaling 47,252 calls.
However, he said a majority of the calls are proactive work by officers. Out of all the calls for service, he said roughly 7,000 calls were traffic stops.
“Because calls are going up, it doesn’t necessarily mean crime is going up,” Smith said.
As a matter of fact, Smith said Lemoore is experiencing some of its lowest crime rates in five years.
While the city had a string of three homicides in 2017, Smith was pleased to report there were no homicides in 2018.
Major crimes also decreased in every statistical category in 2018:
Smith said both auto thefts and burglaries reached their lowest total in five years. As a comparison, he said three years ago the number of burglaries was in the triple digits.
“This is the first year in the last five [years] that we saw a reduction in every major category,” Smith said, adding the Detectives Unit had a 98 percent clearance rate for 329 assigned cases in 2018.
The chief attributes this success to the department and its officers staying strict on anyone breaking the law, no matter if they’re committing felonies or misdemeanors.
In addition, Smith reported a reduction in traffic accidents year over year since 2014. He said officers consistently give out warnings or citations and provide a lot of education to the rule-breakers.
He said officers also made 106 drunken driving arrests in 2018, compared to 63 in 2017.
Due to changes in the law regarding which crimes are considered misdemeanors and which are considered felonies, Smith said there has been a shift in statistics. He said there were 1,966 misdemeanors in 2018, up from 1,643 in 2017. However, felonies were down from 684 to 644.
Another contributing factor to the department’s success is its community outreach programs and community-oriented policing, which Smith said build trust within the city.
A few examples of the department’s community outreach efforts include Reason for the Season, Presents on Patrol, Lemoore Holiday Stroll, Paint the Curb, various shoe and coat drives and fundraising benefits.
The department also has a Police Activities League (PAL) that trains youth wrestlers. In March 2018, the program expanded to offer CrossFit Kids and an after school program to help kids with homework and tutoring.
“Our officers are doing a lot as far as community outreach,” Smith said.
In the area of community-oriented policing, Smith said the Problem Oriented Policing (POP) team has great relationship with downtown businesses and the Lemoore Chamber of Commerce. He said officers provide things like active shooter training.
Members of Volunteers in Police (VIPs) volunteered over 6,500 hours of service last year to department and community. This year the VIPs, which was created in 1997, will reach 100,000 total hours of service to the community.
Smith also said there are 98 active community watch groups in Lemoore and citizens don’t hesitate to call the police when they see something suspicious.
Lastly, Smith spoke about the Reserves program. Because of this program, he said the department has been able to recruit and retain officers that have the same qualifications as regular officers.
There were a total of seven reserves in 2018, and Smith said three of those reserves were able to get picked up to be full-time police officers when vacancies in the department became available.
He said the program is invaluable and provides the opportunity to put more staffing on the street
“I’m very proud of that program and it’s been very instrumental in actually reducing crime and making our community safer,” Smith said.
HANFORD — Three cheers for Cali Heat — because that’s how many awards they earned earlier this month.
Two Cali Heat Teams, competitive cheerleading groups based in the Custom Performance Cheer & Tumble, won national titles at the Jamz Cheer & Dance Nationals, held Feb. 16-18, in Las Vegas.
Cali Heat Ignite and Cali Heart Supernovas each won a national title in their respective division; the younger of the two teams also earned the Mini Grand Champ Award.
Of the eight students that instructor Carrie Page started with when she founded Custom Performance Cheer & Tumble in 2013, four remain in the program now.
“They started from scratch not knowing a single thing, not knowing how to do a cartwheel or a roll and now they’re on my most advanced team, which is one of the Level 2 teams that just won a title in Vegas,” Page said. “That’s pretty awesome to have them committed and dedicated enough to stick with it as long as they have.”
Page, who has been involved in cheerleading since she was a teenager, started the school almost six years ago after moving to the area from Mississippi with her husband, a Navy man stationed at Naval Air Station Lemoore.
“I started this business because I needed something for myself out here to keep busy and because I missed it so much. I missed working with kids so I would say that coaching kids and working in the community is a big driving motivation for me,” she said. “The kids are why I do it.”
Page has a degree in marketing but hasn’t found a job in that field that was a good fit for her, so she decided to start the competitive cheer and tumbling school, which is headquartered in the Hanford YMCA, 1010 W. Grangeville Blvd.
She now instructs about 90 students in classes Monday through Thursday. A little over a third of those students participate in about 6-8 regional, state-wide and national competitions per year. The next big competition is the Nor Cal Nationals in Daly City, March 23-24.
Page said that competitive cheerleading is unique because with other team sports like soccer or softball, you have a certain amount of people on the field while others sit on the bench. With cheer there’s one team where each member is an important piece.
“I like to describe it like a puzzle. If you have one piece missing, it affects the entire team,” she said.
Imagine a game of Jenga – removing one piece could cause the entire tower to topple, which is another unique aspect of cheerleading – each member must trust the team to catch them during stunts or falls.
It teaches commitment, dedication and how to work together as a whole, Page said.
The classes are available from age 4-18, with occasional workshops for parents and toddlers. And while the classes are female-dominated, Page said that they have a few male cheerleaders and tumblers, which is something she’d like to see more of in the future as the sport grows in popularity in the Central Valley.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/CustomPerformanceCheerTumble.
HANFORD — The California High-Speed Rail Authority is scheduled to host an open house Thursday evening in Hanford.
According to the Authority, the purpose of the meeting is to provide information about the high-speed rail project in Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties, including design, right of way, small business and employment opportunities.
It will also be a time where officials can receive feedback and answer questions related to construction activities, project schedule and traffic management surrounding high-speed rail construction.
The meeting will take place from 6:30-8 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 28, at Kit Carson Elementary School, 9895 7th Avenue in Hanford.
Construction Package 2-3 (CP 2-3), located within the Fresno to Bakersfield project section, represents the continuation of construction on the California high-speed rail system south towards Kern County.
CP 2-3 will extend in excess of 60 miles from the terminus of Construction Package 1 at East American Avenue in Fresno to approximately one-mile north of the Tulare-Kern County line.
CP 2-3 will include approximately 36 grade separations in the counties of Fresno, Tulare and Kings, including viaducts, underpasses and overpasses.
WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court on Tuesday cleared AT&T's takeover of Time Warner, rejecting the Trump administration's claims that the $81 billion deal will harm consumers and reduce competition in the TV industry.
The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington came in the high-stakes competition case, approving one of the biggest media marriages ever. It was already completed last spring, soon after a federal trial judge approved it. AT&T, a wireless carrier and TV and home internet provider, absorbed Time Warner, the owner of CNN, HBO, the Warner Bros. movie studio, "Game of Thrones," sports programming and other shows.
Many observers had expected the decision favorable to AT&T from the three-judge appeals court panel. The decision was unanimous to uphold the trial judge's June ruling. Opposing the merger forced the Justice Department to argue against standing legal doctrine that favors mergers among companies that don't compete directly with each other, what's known as a vertical merger.
The U.S. antitrust lawsuit against Dallas-based AT&T marked the first time in decades that the government has challenged that doctrine by suing to block a vertical merger.
The appeals court judges said U.S. District Judge Richard Leon was correct to dismiss the government's argument that AT&T's takeover of Time Warner would hurt competition, limit choices and jack up prices for consumers to watch TV and movies.
"The government failed to meet its burden of proof" for its theory that costs for Time Warner's Turner Broadcasting content would increase after the merger, mainly through threats of programming "blackouts," the judges wrote. The Turner networks include CNN.
The Justice Department antitrust attorneys had asserted that Leon misunderstood the complexities of the TV industry and the nature of AT&T's competitors.
The idea behind the merger was to help AT&T — which claims about 25 million of the 90 million U.S. households that are pay TV customers — compete better with online rivals like Netflix, YouTube and Hulu.
AT&T already had a streaming service, DirecTV Now, but it launched a cheaper offering called WatchTV soon after the deal closed. It's planning another streaming service, "WarnerMedia," for later this year.
"The merger of these innovative companies has already yielded significant consumer benefits, and it will continue to do so for years to come," AT&T General Counsel David McAtee said in a statement. "While we respect the important role that the U.S. Department of Justice plays in the merger review process, we trust that today's (decision) will end this litigation."
The ruling dealt a major setback to the Trump Justice Department. If the government decided to appeal the ruling, the next step likely would be the Supreme Court, and it wasn't clear whether Justice planned to do so.
There's about a 50 percent chance of the government taking it to the high court — and scant prospects of it winning there, said Matthew Cantor, an attorney focusing on telecom antitrust matters at Constantine Cannon in New York.
The Justice Department appears committed to pursuing the long-shot bid against the merger, rather than considering conditions that could have been imposed on AT&T by the trial court to make the deal more acceptable. The head of Justice's antitrust division, Makan Delrahim, doesn't like merger conditions requiring regulators to keep an eye on the combined company's conduct for years after.
But politics and presidential influence also could be a factor, Cantor suggested. When the deal was first made public in October 2016, it drew fire from then-candidate Donald Trump, who promised to kill it "because it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few." Trump as president has publicly feuded with Time Warner's CNN, calling it "failing" and a purveyor of "fake news," and suspending one of its correspondents from the White House.
"It seems to me that political considerations played into this," Cantor said. "It's odd that the Justice Department has gone after this merger as its principal merger case. ... This was a very tough case. It's very hard to challenge a vertical merger."