Worried about how residents perceive public safety in their city after a recent spate of shootings, Antioch leaders this week called for a community meeting to discuss ways to stop the violence.
"We need to do something, enough is enough," Mayor Jim Davis said at a City Council meeting Tuesday, asking that a town-hall meeting be called next week.
The council later postponed a tentative meeting to give staff time to prepare, given city furloughs and Monday's holiday.
"The sooner we can have this meeting, the better," Davis said.
Though statistics show Antioch's violent crime rate went down in 2011, concerns about violence in the city have been building. A much-publicized Jan. 21 shooting of six young adults at a "Sweet 16" birthday party, five shootings this past weekend and a fatal shooting of an intruder by a resident Monday night have pushed this community to the tipping point, Davis said.
"We've been hearing complaints from residents that they are leaving Antioch or they don't feel comfortable going to the store at night, or even during the day," Davis said.
Over the past three weeks, some residents have voiced their concerns and possible solutions to local community group Take Back Antioch, founder Brittney Gougeon said.
Gougeon, who started Take Back Antioch last year in reaction to local violence, noted her displeasure, however, when the council postponed the town hall meeting.
"How many incidents of this nature do we have to have before we have a true emergency town hall meeting? What's more urgent than six shootings in four days?" Gougeon asked "On the flip side, that there even is a reaction is a great reaction."
Discussion about public safety dominated much of Tuesday's meeting.
Antioch's police force, which has 126 authorized sworn officer positions, currently employees 94 officers. Law enforcement staffing has been cut back the past three years through attrition and a hiring freeze, forcing specialty divisions such as gang and traffic units to be disbanded and all officers assigned to patrol.
Police Chief Allan Cantando said that violent crime was down 5.3 percent in 2011, but property crime spiked 25.1 percent. Police are making arrests and solving cases despite being in a reaction mode to crime, he said.
"We're doing the best we can with the resources we have," Cantando said Tuesday.
Cantando lauded the work of volunteers and residents helping police.
"What's important is that our residents continue to call us when they see suspicious activity. Having those extra sets of eyes and ears helps," he said.
Antioch is in the process of hiring two sworn officers, Cantando said. With the prospect of officers possibly being out on injury leave or retiring, the council asked staff to look at ways to hire up to three more officers, along with some long-term funding options for hiring.
Cantando says more officers would reduce response times to calls and increase arrests, which will in turn prevent crime.
Councilman Gary Agopian brought up an idea raised earlier this month by Crime Prevention Commissioner Bill Cook to put a parcel tax on the November ballot.
"It's time we stop saying, 'Is that good enough?' Nothing is more important than public safety. We have to find solutions," Agopian said.
Agopian gave an example that if someone is robbed, they will likely have to pay a more expensive insurance deductible than the cost of a property tax that would fund police.
"It's a better buy," he said.
Among the topics Davis would like to see discussed at the future town hall are how to boost Neighborhood Watch programs, how the city's budget can be tweaked to fund more police officers and what programs residents are willing to forgo to boost public safety.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164.