Visalia authorities report rise in break-ins
VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) -- Authorities in the South Valley say gangs are playing a significant role in a spike in crime in Visalia.
Visalia police have seen a big decline in some crimes while others like burglaries are on the rise.
Gang crimes like drive-by shootings and homicides are on the decline here in Visalia. In fact murders are down by nearly half, with five homicides so far this year.
Tulare County has had a reputation of having one of the highest auto theft rates in California. Now those numbers are on a continuous decline.
"The auto theft seems to be down but we have a task force here that's very aggressive with the auto theft problem," Visalia Police Chief Colleen Mestas said.
Murders are also down. Visalia has had five so far this year, only two of which were gang-related, compared to eight the year before.
Investigators say while murders are down, robberies are up a whopping 45 percent. Burglaries are also up.
Visalia police are finding more of what they call "front door kicks" and are warning residents they should be careful when opening their doors to people they don't know.
Chief Colleen Mestas sometimes the people on the other side of the door are former inmates.
"And I think a lot of this has to be attributed to AB109 and getting the release of a lot of additional people that would normally have been incarcerated- back on our city streets," Mestas said.
Despite the brutal beating and rape of a woman in downtown Visalia two weeks ago, police say overall assaults are down by about 9 percent.
Sexual assault cases involving teachers or school staff and students are on the rise, but Chief Mestas says that doesn't necessarily mean the crimes are happening more.
This year teachers Eric Ford and Lianne Trout are in jail on charges they had sex with a student. Robert Gonzales, who was set to be hired as a basketball coach at Golden West High School, is also facing charges he had sex with an underage student.
Police say social media is helping them find out about the crimes.
"But now with Facebook and children having cell phones and all the social media that goes on I think we were able to find out a lot of those that would otherwise go unreported," Mestas said.
To help criminal activity decrease, Visalia police says help them be the ears and eyes of the community. Report suspicious activity you see and hear about.
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