ANTIOCH -- For the first time in awhile, leaders here received a bit of good news this week about the city's ongoing public safety struggle.
Police statistics show that the number of crimes committed here dropped the first three months of 2013 compared with the previous year, Chief Allan Cantando told the City Council on Tuesday night.
The combined total of violent and property crimes fell from 1,550 to 1,243 from January to March, a decrease of 19.8 percent. Violent crimes decreased by 7 percent, primarily because of a slight dip in aggravated assaults.
The number of burglaries, which increased substantially the past two years, fell 21.5 percent in the first three months of 2013.
The average police response time for top priority calls also dropped from 11 minutes, 4 seconds to 10:17. The total number of arrests, however, went down.
"That's absolutely good news, but we know we have a lot of work to do," Councilman Tony Tiscareno said.
Council members were encouraged by the chief's report, though as Councilman Gary Agopian pointed out, "2012 was on top of probably the worst year in history when it comes to crime increase in Antioch."
Violent crime in 2012 increased 30.6 percent from 2011, and total crime jumped 24.2 percent, while arrests were down 13.6 percent.
"What this shows is what we can do and what we should do," Agopian said, adding that more police funding would "blow away" those numbers.
Though he didn't want to "paint too sweet a picture" because crime is cyclical and three months is a small snapshot to examine, Cantando attributed the numbers to factors such as: residents being more active in Neighborhood Watch and not being shy to call about suspicious activity; officers coming back from injury leave; a couple of new police hires; and some amount of luck.
Antioch police now has 92 sworn officers, with eight of those officers on leave, Cantando said.
The city had 126 sworn officers in 2007 before the economic downturn. Citing a "crime emergency," city leaders are exploring putting a sales tax initiative or business tax for landlords, or combination of the two, on the November ballot to help bring staffing closer to that old number.
Sandra Kelly, a Neighborhood Watch captain on C Street near City Park, said the news was "inspiring."
"I fervently hope this is a positive sign of things to come and shows that hard work pays off. But from what I'm hearing, there are still a lot of major issues," Kelly said.
Crime prevention commissioner Bill Cook said he still hears lots of residential complaints about shots fired, burglaries and being threatened and intimidated by others.
"I think it's encouraging, but at this point, it's not getting better," he said.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.