VICTORVILLE — Talking about crime at the Valley Morning Insight meeting Wednesday, San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon offered up a sobering statistic.
"The big ones that are really important, the violent crimes, are up," McMahon said. "Overall in the whole High Desert it's up over 20 percent in the first six months of the year. That's murders, robberies — robbery of a house, not just a business — as well as assault with a deadly weapon. That's all up."
Part of a 20-minute presentation that touched on crime stats, the shortfalls of criminal justice reform and the ongoing efforts by the Sheriff's Department to keep residents and communities safe, McMahon didn't sugarcoat things for those in attendance at the event hosted by the Victor Valley Chamber of Commerce at the Hilton Garden Inn.
Even though the stats for 2016 "would suggest to you that crime is really down," McMahon admitted that the numbers are skewed due to changes in reporting requirements, making some categories appear better or worse than they actually are.
"In this last year, if you looked at our stats you'd see rape went way up," McMahon said. "It's not that there's more rapes, it's more things are (now) included in that category. So sex crimes that used to be in their own category are now lumped in with rape. ... It looks like rape went through the roof, but that's not really true."
Conversely, the stats on property crimes remained static year-over-year, but McMahon said the department "pulled 5,000 reports out of that category" due to changes in requirements and that property crimes are actually up a couple percent.
Pointing to the effects of Proposition 47, Proposition 57 and Assembly Bill 109, and how crimes like possession of narcotics or theft of items valued less than $950 have gone from felonies to misdemeanors, McMahon noted that it's getting harder for law enforcement officials to do their jobs.
"I think it's about time that we stop reforming our criminal justice system and settle in and try to figure out how to manage what we have today," McMahon said.
Despite the recent changes that have impacted everything from inmate housing — the Sheriff's Department went from sending over 400 inmates a month to the state prison system to less than 100 — to early parole eligibility, McMahon stressed that his department continues to strive to protect High Desert residents by changing their enforcement focus and pushing inmate rehabilitation.
"It's our responsibility inside of our facilities to do the very best we can to turn those around who are interested in turning their lives around," said McMahon, who pointed to partnerships with locals teamsters and unions as being vital in helping inmates find jobs once they get released.
"If we're successful doing that they don't come back to jail," McMahon said. "If they don't come back, that's great for us. If they turn their life around, that's great for everybody. They're not re-offending, they're not stealing, they're not using drugs.
"They're going to work every day, supporting their family, buying houses, spending money in the community (and) generating sales tax dollars that comes right back into our budget to hire more deputy sheriffs."
Over the last few years, 10 more deputies have been hired to serve the unincorporated areas within the county and local municipalities like Victorville plan to add to their contract with the Sheriff's Department.
Additionally, the Board of Supervisors recently approved an additional $1 million to go toward overtime and fighting crime-related problems, valuable resources that McMahon feels will pay big dividends in the coming months.
"We're not ready to throw in the towel because of criminal justice reform, but any help the community can give us to turn this around we would certainly welcome," McMahon said. "... I think it will take a little time, but we need to continue to do what we need to do within the rules that we have to follow to make the community as safe as we possibly can.
"It's a challenge, but we're up for it."