Tight public health restrictions and canceled events during COVID-19 have had a profound affect on criminal activity in Mountain View, with a newly released report showing 2020 had the lowest number of reported crimes since 2014.
Crime data released in a report last week shows stark changes in 2020 compared to prior years, with drug abuse, DUI and publication intoxication reports dropping dramatically. The number of auto burglaries, which had been sharply rising for years, sank from 917 reports in 2019 to 381 in 2020.
Police officials say the big changes can largely be attributed to COVID-19 and track with neighboring cities, but cautioned that the trends can be misleading. The state of the pandemic and public health restrictions have shifted over time, making the data a snapshot of a time when almost everyone was stuck at home.
"It was really like a ghost town, and that's reflected in the lot of the stats you see," said police Chief Chris Hsiung.
The city tallied a grand total of 4,440 reported crimes in 2020, down from 5,533 in 2019. Along with the drop in auto burglaries, the police department responded to fewer reports of assault, rape and vehicle theft. Drug abuse cases decreased from 331 in 2019 to 185 last year, with a similar decline in DUI reports from 206 to 119.
Bucking the trend, however, was a stubborn increase in some property crimes -- notably burglaries. Despite COVID-19, there was a 23% rise in residential burglaries from 176 incidents in 2019 to 217 last year, and a 29% bump in commercial burglaries from 150 to 193. Hsiung said this is mostly in line with other South Bay cities, and could be attributed to changes in Santa Clara County's judicial and jail system during the pandemic.
Over the course of the pandemic, county officials have sought to decrease the overall jail population to contend with the spread of COVID-19 among the incarcerated. The jail population went from 3,294 prior to the pandemic to 2,263 as of this April, according to county data, and Hsiung said many of the inmates were being let out with a citation to appear in court.
With the county adopting a zero-dollar bail schedule for lower level offenses, Hsiung said one of the downsides is that crimes are being committed by people who normally would have still been behind bars.
"Unfortunately we had a lot of people we were catching for crime who were back on the street and not incarcerated," he said.
With fewer people on the road and lighter commute traffic, the number of traffic accidents was cut in half in 2020 from 531 to 256, and the number of traffic violations plummeted from 14,090 in 2019 to just 4,160 in 2020. City officials declared a state of emergency at the start of the pandemic, which remains in effect today, that shifted the police department's focus away from things like parking enforcement and ticketing everyone who commits a traffic violation.
While the department still responded to traffic-related complaints, Hsiung said officers were no longer monitoring two-hour parking zones, 72-hour violations or street sweeps.
"All of that was pulled back and we stopped proactive enforcement," he said.
The department's annual police reports track crime trends as well as police use of force -- which decreased slightly during 2020 -- and complaints against police personnel. Though the report was delayed this year and only publicly released last week, police officials say the hope is to publish the 2021 annual report in the first quarter of 2022.