- By: Scott Miller, Fresno Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman and Owner of Gazebo Gardens
I am a relentlessly optimistic guy, and generally regarded as mellow to a fault, but property crime really gets me fired up. So I’ll beg your forgiveness that this isn’t my usual lighthearted, optimistic article. Of all the categories of crime that affect business, property crime is the most insidious. It’s like bleeding to death from a thousand tiny cuts. Burglary, petty theft, vehicle theft, shoplifting, and vandalism: each occurrence is usually a small thing, but when added up over time, can be huge for local businesses. We all experience these types of crime to some degree, and for most of my business owner friends, they are considered part of the overhead. In this era of austerity, I think crime is a part of our overhead we should be doing everything in our power to cut.
It’s not 100% logical, but it makes me even more angry that property criminals don’t usually get much money for the stuff they take, particularly in comparison to the cost of the damage they cause. For instance, when someone steals the condenser off a rooftop air conditioner, the thief gets 25 bucks from the recycling yard at cost of thousands to the victim’s business. My friend has repeatedly had the front windows broken out of her North Fresno restaurant so thieves could take a flat screen TV that hangs on the wall. What’s the value of a used TV compared to a 12 foot plate glass window and business closure while it gets fixed? Heck, I once had a guy do thousands of dollars of damage breaking into our retail building. Guess what he stole? A fifteen year- old telephone. One of my customers had the sprinkler heads stolen out of her lawn. They couldn’t possibly have been worth five dollars in recycling. I could write pages of examples like these. Businesses have to choose whether to cover these costs directly or watch their insurance rates skyrocket, all so criminals can make pennies on the dollar. That’s just mean AND inefficient.
Sometimes even the threat of property crime can damage a business. We’ve probably all heard anecdotes about some specific parking lot where cars are likely to get broken into. Whether it’s true or not, wouldn’t most of us be less likely to patronize the businesses near that lot? Similarly, there may be very little relationship between vandalism and violent crime, but areas with a lot of graffiti just feel less safe. These perceptions of safety profoundly affect consumers’ willingness to patronize a business.
As budgets continue to be cut, the perpetrators of these kinds of crime have seen very little penalty for their actions. These are the “catch and release” criminals you’ve heard about. Most are not violent, many are addicts, and commit these crimes regularly. Space at the jail has been (correctly under the circumstances) reserved for violent criminals. In addition, the County’s ability to deal with drug abusers and the mentally ill has been greatly diminished by budget cuts.
So what’s the answer? There probably isn’t an easy one.
There may be more than a few pieces to this puzzle, the largest of which is that property crime is rising closer to the top of our community consciousness. I’m very excited and grateful to Mayor Swearengin and Chief Dyer for creating the Career Burglar Apprehension Team (CBAT) specifically to address property crime in Fresno. CBAT’s goal will be to target the most prolific burglars and bring them to justice. The County and Sherriff’s department continue to struggle with budgets for the Jail and social services, but I’m confident that new plans and efficiencies are emerging that will improve the situation.
As business owners, we must continue to make property crime a priority. We can’t be complacent. Whether you own or rent your building, never allow graffiti to see the end of a day on your premises. Report every instance of theft or burglary, no matter how small, because that’s how law enforcement agencies determine how to deploy their resources. Install lighting and train your employees to prevent shoplifting. Don’t make it easy for property criminals. Together, with the help of our elected officials, we can get this problem under control. We can’t afford not to.