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Cities are like snowflakes, no two are exactly alike. The same can be said for neighborhoods within cities. The Sacramento Police Department understands this and manages the policing of downtown Sacramento differently than its surrounding areas.
Sacramento poses one major issue that differs from other cities. We house the State Capitol building and, at times, the governor himself. Being the capitol of an important world entity, California, Sacramento sees special events of all kinds. The Amgen Tour for example, which stopped in recently, required the closing of many streets in the city. Other events, such as large-scale protests, marches, or parades, also require heavy monitoring and planning. The SPD is responsible for the smooth operation of the city amidst the road closures and large influx of people that come to town for these events.
Sergeant Norm Leong of the SPD shed some light on the challenges of policing downtown Sacramento.
He explained that the majority of crimes committed here are property related. Thefts of all kinds are reported regularly to the SPD. Robberies and muggings are also common on the light rail or near light rail stations. "They are mainly crimes of opportunity. Late at night there may only be one or two people on the train and the opportunity presents itself," he stated. Crowds play a major role in deterring theft from taking place.
Sacramento Regional Transit is patrolled by the Sacramento Regional Transit Police Department, which is managed by the SPD and funded by the Sacramento Regional Transit District. This unit is comprised of SPD and Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department officers who ride the train in order to deal with any problems and keep people safe. There are also undercover units riding the light rail regularly to help maintain safety.
Gangs do not center in the downtown area. They do come to town for entertainment purposes, although typically there are few gang-related issues downtown. The topic of gangs raised the issue of graffiti, and Leong said that the majority of spray painted walls can be attributed to "taggers" rather than gang signs. "Taggers have turf too," he responded when asked about identical tags located in concentrated areas around town.
An interesting aspect of the SPD's responsibilities lies in the downtown entertainment industry. Weekends see police vehicles parked outside certain night clubs into the early morning hours. These are part of the “entertainment unit,” whose services are paid for by the night clubs that require them. This unit keeps an eye on the clubs that are known to have problems, and also works with the owners of the night clubs to quell any potential issues. The rental of city police cuts back on calls that would otherwise cost the city large amounts of money and also reduces the number of disturbances that might be caused if they were not present.
Downtown also houses a large population of transients. Since this is an issue that persists, the SPD must monitor them and does so through the use of “homeless police,” a small unit assigned to handle the homeless population.
Another issue that is considered by the SPD is high pedestrian traffic. "Population more than doubles during the week with people who work downtown," said Leong. This increases traffic, which, doubled with the high pedestrian traffic, results in a high number of accidents involving vehicles and pedestrians.
Leong explained that the policing of downtown is a combined effort of the California Highway Patrol, County Sheriffs, and SPD who partner together to keep the city safe. The presence of the County Jail (jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Department) and the State Capitol (jurisdiction of CHP) forces the cooperation of these three departments, and they do cooperate well, considering each other to be assets in carrying out their duties.