The Urban Peace Institute’s community safety assessment of SanTana caused a bit of a civic ruckus when released last month as it took city government and its police department to task. Most disturbingly, it reported a skyrocketing homicide rate in the city that rose by 62 percent over a five-year period, something that contrasted sharply with a 59 percent decline in the Santa Ana Police Department’s homicide clearance rate. Commissioned by the California Endowment, the assessment challenged city hall to stop its “business as usual” approach to public safety.
But a week after the report’s release, SanTana’s po-po is saying, “not so!” with regards to its methods and conclusions.
“UPI’s community safety assessment of Santa Ana is a failed attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the Santa Ana Police Department and the exceptional service we provide to everyone in our city,” the department’s Aug. 1 press release reads. “The assessment contains a myriad of negative inferences towards the Santa Ana Police Department. This biased narrative was obvious and appears intentional.”
The 83-page report acknowledges that attempts were made to include Santa Ana PD in the process. Their non-participation was deemed a “major gap” by UPI, but the study group nevertheless stood firmly by the research and statistics compiled. Both organizations offer differing accounts as to why teaming up for the assessment failed.
“In 2018, UPI asked the Santa Ana Police Department to participate in the assessment,” writes Corporal Anthony Bertagna, Santa Ana PD spokesman, in an email. “Due to significant leadership transition in the SAPD senior management team, SAPD requested UPI temporarily delay the assessment. The intent of this reasonable and defensible request was to allow time to form a partnership between UPI and SAPD.”
Chief David Valentin expressed interest in pursuing that end, according to the department. But as both parties note, UPI completed the assessment without direct input from the police. In a response to the department provided to the Weekly, UPI claimed “many misleading accusations” have been made.
“UPI met with SAPD command staff and the chief multiple times to discuss the assessment and address all questions,” the group’s response reads. “UPI hoped to engage with SAPD to understand their perspectives and challenges on community safety and made every effort to work collaboratively with SAPD, going so far as to postpone the publication of this report six months in a show of good faith while SAPD transitioned. In March 2019, we received a firm ‘no’ to our requests for collaboration and were told that SAPD was not interested in working with UPI.”
Tiff aside, the department has bigger points of contention regarding research methods and conclusions. They criticized the use of gift cards for focus groups and survey respondents in the assessment and claimed the study’s authors inflated homicides 11 percent between 2012-2016 by misreporting the data four out of five years.
Where it concerns a decline in homicide clearance, the department wanted to provide some context. “In part, the clearance rate is a living breathing number that is constantly being updated with the Department of Justice, sometimes years after the crime occurred,” writes Bertagna. “This area of reporting homicide clearance rates is yet another example of the critical need to collaborate with the respective community’s law enforcement agency that is being assessed for context and cross-verification of data.”
Undeterred by the criticism, UPI stands by the merits of its report. In their response, they dispute that survey respondents received any incentives and that the limited use of gift cards is an accepted part of community research methods. They admit in error in the ledger of their homicide graph, one that should’ve read 2013-2017. With an easy shift one year over, the numbers add up.
“The data is accurate as presented,” the UPI response reads. “We have no explanation for why the SAPD claims to have looked at the [California Department of Justice] and FBI data and found different numbers that we reported.”
Another key aspect of the report came in making the case that a credibility gap exists between the police and SanTana residents. “Over the last two years, the Santa Ana Police Department has refocused its efforts on generating and sustaining community trust, enhancing police legitimacy and providing a standard in policing centered on genuine relationships with our community,” says Valentin in a statement. “We will continue our joint partnership efforts with our Santa Ana community.”
The department points to March when it revised its mission, vision, values and community orientated policing philosophy. They touted collaboration with OC Human Relations and a recognition from the nonprofit at its most recent annual awards ceremony.
But UPI considers the department’s clap back to its assessment only underscores its conclusions.
“As reflected in the report’s findings, SAPD was unable or unwilling to engage in an assessment of community safety that equally engaged the voices of community organizations and residents,” UPI’s response claims. “SAPD’s reaction to the report further supports the data represented in the assessment that the divide between community and law enforcement remains a critical issue.”