CONCORD -- A city discussion on crime focused heavily on homelessness Tuesday, sparking renewed calls to control the population and crackdown on its criminal element.
Once a problem in neighboring Contra Costa cities, the county's homeless have flocked to Concord in recent years: camps have sprung up along trails and waterways in the city or in nearby unincorporated areas, and panhandlers have set up shop downtown.
One homeless outreach official said Tuesday the city is now the "popular spot" among transients.
"This is not about going after the homeless," said Vice Mayor Tim Grayson. "This is about going after the criminal."
In his quarterly report on crime data, police Chief Guy Swanger said violent crime is down 14 percent in 2012 compared to 2011, in part because of a crackdown on homeless camps, which have attributed to homicides and other violent crimes in previous years.
Concord had zero homicides in 2012, compared to seven in 2011, but violence against and among homeless was visible. In December, a fight between two homeless men at a camp just outside Concord left one man dead. Another homeless death in Concord last year was originally thought to be a homicide, but was later classified otherwise.
Between July and December, the city had 923 calls for service for homeless and chronic inebriants, costing the city $156,910. Over the same period, the city spent $15,200 to clean up homeless camps and $6,700 for hazardous material clean up.
Swanger said his department will continue to crack down on camps in 2013 and offer services to the homeless.
This month, city police have begun a three-day-a-week operation targeting the city's homeless with Central County Homeless Outreach founder Doug Stewart.
Stewart, who also patrols central Contra Costa five nights a week, told the City Council that he has visited several camps in his first 15 hours, contacting 62 people, three of which accepted a bed in a shelter.
The council's message on Tuesday was to discourage residents from giving money and food to the homeless. Residents are encouraged to utilize the city's Change 4 Real Change program, in which residents can purchase a book of five vouchers for $5 to give to homeless. The vouchers can be used for homeless services.
In the chief's quarterly report, between 2011 and 2012, rapes were down from eight to seven, robberies from 96 to 74, aggravated assaults from 119 to 111, and burglary from 457 to 415.
In that same period, vehicle thefts rose from 321 to 388, while reports of larceny jumped 1,346 to 1,450. Concord averages two stolen cars a day, with an 80 percent recovery rate of stolen cars, Swanger said.
There were 705 traffic collisions from July to December, three of which were fatal, according to Swanger. The top three locations for collisions were: Monument Boulevard at Oak Grove Road; Willow Pass Road at Diamond Boulevard; and Concord Boulevard at Galindo Street.
David DeBolt covers Concord and Clayton. Contact him at 925-943-8048.