Police chiefs for two neighboring East Contra Costa cities focused on their struggle to boost police staffing to previous levels in delivering reports on crime trends last week.

There are now 87 sworn police officers in Antioch, including a veteran officer from another city who started earlier this month. That number is only slightly higher than recent months despite the city's aggressive hiring efforts, as some officers leave the department.

"We are working at top speed to get more people into the process, so we can get them on the streets," Antioch police Chief Allan Cantando told the City Council on Tuesday.

Three potential officer hires are going through background checks, Cantando said.

An Antioch Police officer uses crime tape to secure the scene of of an incident in front of Hardy Nix Jewelers on Delta Fair Boulevard in Antioch, Calif.,
An Antioch Police officer uses crime tape to secure the scene of of an incident in front of Hardy Nix Jewelers on Delta Fair Boulevard in Antioch, Calif., on Friday, April 11, 2014. One person was confirmed dead at the scene. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

Antioch's goal is to boost its number of officers to 97 as soon as possible, and 104 in the next 18 months using money from Measure C, a half-cent sales tax hike voters approved in November.

Before the recession forced spending cuts starting in 2008, the city had 126 sworn officers along with a fully staffed non-sworn department.

Filling the positions has proved difficult. Antioch police received 986 applications for police positions in the first three months of 2014, but of those, only four were hired: two dispatchers from other agencies, a lateral sworn officer and a police trainee.

"We've had conversations about the difficulties we've had in the hiring process," Cantando said. "Our biggest success has been the lateral hires from other agencies, and we're seeing great return on our investment."

Brentwood Chief Mark Evenson also expressed the desire to hire more officers in his crime update to the City Council on Tuesday. Brentwood has 49 sworn officers despite being budgeted for 66.

While four new officers are expected to complete their field training by September and another seven will do so by February 2015, the department still needs to fill seven vacancies.

"We are keeping our standards very high in who we hire. We want the best and the brightest police officers," said Evenson, adding that of more than 40 applicants interviewed recently, only about five were selected to go through background checks.

Some experienced officers have also left for other departments, he added.

Evenson expects to bring a hiring-incentive plan to the City Council in the next 30 to 60 days to "attract people to come here (and) to keep people here once they get here."

As for the recent crime snapshot, Antioch's number of reported crimes increased 2.8 percent for the first three months of 2014 compared with the same time the year before. However, Cantando said he's pleased that violent crime decreased 11.6 percent.

A Brentwood Police car is parked at the entrance of Heritage High School in Brentwood. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Staff File)
A Brentwood Police car is parked at the entrance of Heritage High School in Brentwood. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Staff File)

"That has been the focus of the department is to deal with persons crimes, and I'm happy to see we have a reduction in that area," he said.

Cantando also noted arrests are up 10.3 percent, which he attributes mainly to the new veteran officer hires "hitting the ground running."

Overall, crime in Brentwood dropped 6.3 percent in 2013 compared with 2012, with violent crimes down 22.8 percent. But within the violent crime category, the number of reported rapes almost tripled, going from four in 2012 to 11 last year. Aggravated assaults also increased, going from 52 to 58.

Property crimes edged up 2.4 percent because of increases in nonresidential burglary, theft and auto theft, Evenson said.

The chiefs also touched on recent incidents during their reports.

Antioch had no homicides for the first three months of 2014 but, as of Friday, there had been three this month.

Cantando said officers have either made arrests or are following leads in those cases.

Evenson touched on the five armed robberies at various locations the night of April 17. All are believed to be connected to the same group of suspects.

"Our officers and detectives are working diligently to apprehend these individuals," he said.

Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164 and Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow them at Twitter.com/EastCounty_Girl and Twitter.com/paulburgarino.

Antioch crime statistics
Here are Antioch's crime statistics for the first three months of 2014 as compared with the same time period in 2013.
Type of crime 2013 2014
Homicide 2 0
Rape 4 12
Robbery 89 67
Aggravated assault 130 120
Burglary 354 365
Theft 455 445
Auto theft 209 269
Total crime 1,243 1,278
Adult arrests 708 809
Juvenile arrests 188 179
Total Arrests 896 988
Source: Antioch Police Department

Brentwood Crime Statistics
Here are Brentwood's crime statistics for 2013 and 2012.
Type of crime 2012 2013
Murder 1 0
Rape 4 11
Robbery 42 20
Aggravated assault 52 58
Simple assault 524 395
Residential burglary 184 182
Nonresidential burglary 56 71
Theft 835 848
Auto Theft 110 113
Total crime 1,819 1,703
Source: Brentwood Police Department