Downtown Stockton is maligned by many as being unsafe, a notion often cited as a determining factor for avoiding the neighborhood for anything other than jury duty. And on the surface, downtown can appear unseemly at times with graffiti, litter and panhandlers further perpetuating the view that downtown is crime-infested. To this point, The Record ran a story just two months ago about a business owner who moved downtown last year only to have his building besieged by vagrants urinating on the walls and children rolling dice in the alley. These preconceptions and anecdotal evidence suggest that Downtown Stockton is dangerous.
But the data actually tells a different story.
Contrary to popular belief, Downtown Stockton is actually experiencing a sharp decrease in criminal activity, with crime falling in the area faster than the rest of the city as a whole. According to Stockton Police Department data, crime in Downtown Stockton has decreased by 21% from 2013 to 2014. Over the same period, Stockton as a whole experienced an 8% decrease.
Here’s how some of the numbers break down: Downtown Stockton, defined roughly as the area within Park Street, Center Street, Highway 4 and the train tracks to the west, saw a 36% decrease in aggravated assaults, a 39% decrease in burglaries, and 15% decreases in motor vehicle theft and regular theft.
The numbers don’t lie: Downtown Stockton is safe and getting safer
That’s not to mean that there’s not room for improvement. While crime is trending in the right direction, there’s still a ways to go and I don’t suggest that we should be complacent with the current level of criminal activity. But we largely can’t police our way out of many of these types of crimes because they happen when no one is watching. The most effective way to eradicate crime is to have a vibrant downtown with a constant on street presence of people heading to restaurants, going to the movies, walking to their apartment or enjoying a walk or bike ride. People are the most effective crime fighting tool, so activating public spaces and streets should be not just an economic development priority, but a public safety one.
Because we’re in an urban core, there will always be some degree of blight that gives people the impression that the neighborhood is unsafe. Graffiti, litter, panhandlers: all of these factors contribute to a perception that Downtown Stockton is unsafe, fairly or not. But these issues are faced in every significant urban core in the country. No city completely eliminates all blight in their downtown areas, and Stockton won’t either. But that’s not a bad thing. If we eradicated everything that made people slightly uncomfortable, then Downtown Stockton would be no better than a sterile suburban strip mall. These imperfections mean that Downtown Stockton is a real place with people from all walks of life, and that’s exactly how a downtown should function.
We can’t let isolated incidents or scary anecdotes shape our view of safety in downtown. The numbers are headed in the right direction and downtown is safer than ever and will only get safer as the revitalization of the neighborhood continues to bring more people into our urban core.