Heat maps show violent crimes stretched along city’s main streets, property crime widespread
Four months into the job, Palm Springs Police Chief Andy Mills is armed with a new weapon for crimefighting in the city: data. He wants to arm the community with it as well.
Mills and a few of his officers will be fanning out this week to show the data to anyone who wants to see it at a series of community meetings in each of five city districts. Members of the community are invited to attend any and all of them, starting with today’s at Victoria Park, 2744 N. Via Miraleste, at 4 p.m.
What Mills and his officers will show are heat maps indicating where each of the reported 2,290 property crimes and 315 violent crimes occurred in Palm Springs last year. Reports of everything from petty thefts to homicides are plotted on the maps, creating a picture that resembles a petri dish of multi-colored blotches throughout the city.
What Mills hopes to gain from educating the public about where crime is occurring is direction.
“We’re going to hand out heat maps of violent crime, property crime, and traffic collisions in our city so people can tell what’s happening and where it’s happening,” Mills said last week as he prepared for the community forums. “Then residents will tell us what their priority is.”
From those priorities will come a mission. That’s something Mills said the department, made up of “a high-caliber of personnel at all ranks,” currently lacks.
“There is no mission,” said Mills, speaking frankly of the division of city government he inherited last November. “We don’t have a direction. What are we trying to accomplish as a department? We don’t have crime fighting priorities. We’re just responding to what is called Constant Acute Political Emergencies.”
What Mills hopes to end is misinformation. It’s one thing to speculate on social media that your neighborhood has more residential burglaries, or that the city is overwhelmed with motor vehicle thefts, but seeing the facts, he said, will give the community a truer sense of the situation.
“I want people to have the data in their hands so they can make a rational reference as to what has occurred prior in this city,” said Mills. “What we’re going to show is a lot of nuisance crimes. And if that’s the case where people want us to focus, then that’s where we’re going to spend our time.”
The approach takes community policing one step further, Mills said. Traditional measures at community outreach — such as hosting coffee with a cop events, or officers leaving their vehicles to play a pick-up basketball game with neighborhood youth — are great for public relations. But if police officers are truly going to increase safety for city residents, they need to know exactly what makes them feel unsafe, and where.
“Neighborhood policing is looking at policing from their perspective,” Mills said of residents. “They hold us accountable, and we hold them accountable. It’s not just a one-way street. We need their help as well.”
Looking at the maps, it’s easy to see that what residents have been saying about crime in the community is true. Most of the violent crimes occur Downtown — especially in an area with a heavy concentration of bars. Neighborhoods in the northern part of the city have more reports of violence than the south. Personal property theft is mainly Downtown, but spreads out to all neighborhoods in the core of the city — districts 3, 4, and 5.
What’s not shown on the maps, and that police will no doubt be questioned about, are drug offenses, particularly those committed by the homeless population, which authorities acknowledge is a growing concern with little hope for solution without a change in approach.
“There has been a change in the environment in the court system at the federal, state, and local level to reduce incarcerations,” Mills said. “It has affected the moral of police. Drugs that were a felony are now a misdemeanor.”
Also affecting his department’s moral, Mills said, is lack of staffing, brought on by not only injuries but a lack of interest in policing throughout the nation.
“I walked into a department with significant morale issues,” said Mills. “I think people want to poke at people, and says it’s this person’s fault or that person’s fault. But it’s really just the state of affairs of policing in America.
“Our cops are exhausted. They have gone through hell in the last two and a half years with COVID, the uncertainty of that, and the tension in the air that is palpable in so many communities. Then there was the terrible murder of George Floyd and the resulting conflicts between communities and police. It has all drained the psychological, physical, and emotional spirit of the officers.”
More information: For a closer look at the maps, including a look at where traffic accidents are most likely, head to the story on our website here. Interested in attending one of the community forums? Check our community calendar for dates, times, and locations.
FIRST RANGER, NOW FINLEY: Palm Springs police have a new four-legged member of the force, they announced Monday, and his mission is unlike any other. Finley is a therapy K9, similar to Ranger, a Palm Springs Fire Department dog profiled in The Post here last week. “Finley doesn’t look for explosives, narcotics or people,” the department wrote in a Facebook post. “Finley has a special purpose and one that will bring smiles to the faces of PSPD members and members of the community. Finley is a therapy K9. Finley will be a welcome addition to our department and he cannot wait to visit everyone during community events.” In his bio, Finley lists “long walks on Palm Canyon Drive” as one of his likes, as well as the movie Turner and Hooch and the TV show COPS. It should also be noted he is “Not a ‘Cat Person,'” the bio states.
COMMUNITY AWARDS: The Palm Springs Human Rights Commission honored eight community members and organizations Monday evening for outstanding community service. Those honored during an online ceremony include:
- Ann Sheffer, whose leadership with the City of Palm Springs Public Arts Commission helped the city deal with the COVID-19 crisis.
- Vincent Corrales, who volunteered to run errands and shop for groceries for those 60 years or older confined to their home during COVID-19.
- Jimmy Boegle, publisher of The Coachella Valley Independent, who remained committed to keeping the community informed of the pandemic science and data from the medical community.
- Vaccinate Inland Empire (VAXIE), a volunteer organization that helped people navigate the always-changing COVID-19 vaccination system in Southern California.
- Chad Gardner, who managed through the COVID-19 challenges and helped address civic issues and the community’s needs while on the board of Main Street Palm Springs and the Mayor’s COVID-19 Business Transition & Re-entry Task Force
- The Desert Healthcare District and Foundation, which successfully linked community and faith-based organizations, government agencies, and local farm owners together to address the COVID-19 epidemic.
- Nikki Stone, who was recognized for being a stellar example of what it means to give back to your community through volunteerism.
- Dean Lavine, who was recognized for his support of charitable and fundraising events that have helped improve the quality of life for those living in Palm Springs.
“If you can say nothing or do nothing, nothing changes,” said Ron deHarte, chair of the Commission. “The honorees today are not the say nothing type of people. They are the heart of our community.”
STABBING PLEA: A 40-year-old man accused of stabbing one man and threatening to stab a convenience store clerk pleaded not guilty Monday to related charges. Christopher William Freitas of Palm Springs was arrested Wednesday when the Palm Springs Police Department received a report of a stabbing at 10:51 a.m. in the 1300 block of Vista Chino. The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office on Monday charged Freitas with one felony count each of attempted murder and criminal threats of death or great bodily injury as well as a sentence-enhancing allegation of using a weapon. Freitas pleaded not guilty to the charges and the case was scheduled for a felony settlement conference on Feb. 24. He remains held on $1 million bail in Riverside. According to officials, Freitas approached his neighbor and an altercation ensued for unknown reasons. During the fight, he allegedly stabbed the neighbor, then fled the scene on foot. While police were at the scene of the initial report, they received a call about a man with a knife matching Freitas’ description at a store in the 1700 block of Vista Chino. According to police, the suspect entered the store and began eating food. When asked to stop, he allegedly grabbed a pair of scissors and attempted to stab the store clerk. Patrons within the store allegedly restrained him and threw him out of the store, where police later found and arrested him.
? Today’s events
Highlights of what’s happening today in Palm Springs. Find complete listings on our community calendar.
- Tax assistance is available at The Mizell Center every Tuesday through April 5. Visit the front desk or call 760-323-5689.
- Palm Springs police will hold their first in a series of community meetings this afternoon, at 4 p.m.
- Tuesday jazz is on tap this evening at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, starting at 5 p.m.
- The Sustainability Commission meets via Zoom at 5:30 p.m.
- Toastmasters starts at 6 p.m. Interested in participating? Send an email to [email protected] for more information and the Zoom link.
? What to watch for
- Black History Month events continue in the city. Find a list of many of them here.
- Mina Hartong still has openings for her comedy class, which begins March 4. Find the details here.
- Modernism Week – the city’s annual celebration of all things midcentury modern – takes place Feb. 17 through 27. Details are here.
- Desert Ensemble Theatre continues its season at the Palm Springs Cultural Center with the California premiere of Salty, starting Friday.
- The Desert Art Center launches its Mid-Mod Show with a Tiki -Taki Luau Reception from 4 p.m. until 6 p.m. on Friday.
- Palm Canyon Theatre has scheduled its next performance – Palm Springs Getaway – for three weekends starting on Feb. 25.
- McCormick’s 72nd Classic Car Auction is scheduled for Feb. 25-27.
- Heart-to-Heart Palm Springs is selling tickets for its March 12 Military Women Appreciation Luncheon. Details are here.