Volume 8, Issue 77  |  September 26, 2023SubscribeAdvertise

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Police chief shares status of crime in the city at community forum


A community forum this week focused on the status of crime in Newport Beach, and highlighted some of the most important public safety issues in the community, including residential burglaries and homelessness.

Chief Joe Cartwright of the Newport Beach Police Department shared statistics and information about the important topics at the Speak Up Newport meeting held on Wednesday (July 12). About 80 people filled the Community Room on Wednesday, with just as many reportedly watching online the livestream on Zoom.

Cartwright, a 21-year veteran of the Newport Beach Police Department, was appointed as chief of police in March. He’s held a variety of field and command-level positions during his two decades with the department, most recently as acting chief following the retirement of his predecessor, Jon Lewis.

Police chief shares status of crime in the city Joe Cartwright

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Courtesy of NBPD

Newport Beach Police Department Chief Joe Cartwright

Residential burglaries in Newport Beach are an ongoing issue. The trend is daily, with most occurring on Fridays between 4 p.m. and 11 p.m. (they call them “dinnertime burglaries”) and primarily in the Dover Shores, Big Canyon and Harbor View neighborhoods, Cartwright explained.

“This is a topic of major concern all over this region,” he said.

Cartwright meets with NBPD management staff and goes over crime every week (and monthly with area lieutenants) to watch crime trends and how they’re addressing it.

“We pay attention to the little things, so we don’t have big problems that a lot of other cities have,” Cartwright said.

South American theft group burglary crews continue to target Newport Beach and the Southern California region, he noted. They are organized and sophisticated, with surveillance operations and Wi-Fi jamming equipment, he noted. They often approach from greenbelts or golf courses, he explained.

“It’s a complicated issue,” he said.

They are mostly from Chile and some from Columbia, Cartwright explained. They are primarily getting into the country through a program called ESTA, an automated system that determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under the visa waiver program.

“Basically, they get online, they answer about 15 questions, and then they get a 90-day pass into America,” Cartwright said, as the audience audibly reacted. “Yeah, it’s kind of shocking.”

It can be renewed for up to two years, he added.

There are 40 countries that participate in the program, but Chile is the only country that doesn’t provide criminal history or arrest records, he noted.

Recently, Orange County District Attorney alerted the Speaker of the House Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) about how the South American theft groups are impacting Orange County (and other communities in Southern California). McCarthy and other representatives traveled to Orange County on June 16 for a briefing about the organized crime operation.

Following the representatives’ visit to Orange County, the House Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment on June 21 to withhold funding for Chile’s visa waiver program until criminal background checks for those traveling into the U.S. is provided to the Department of Homeland Security.

“Until they give us that criminal history, until they do those background checks we don’t want to allow any more to come in,” Cartwright said.

Last year, about 350,000 people have come into the U.S. from Chile through the ESTA visa waiver program, Cartwright pointed out.

“They’re not all burglars, obviously, but some are in there,” he said.

They come up to nice areas like Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, or Beverly Hills. They’ll steal high-end property and ship it back to Chile, he explained.

Without that criminal history, the DA has had difficulty charging them or holding them for bail appropriately, Cartwright noted.

“That’s really kept us behind the eight ball on that,” he said.

Once arrested, cases are sent to the OCDA, but without that information they can’t ask for an increase in bail, for example, or provide answers to the other things the judge asks about, he explained. They’re released and given a court date to return. In Orange County, about 148 burglars from Chile have been captured.

“So far there’s been 100% absconsion on that court date,” Cartwright said. “That shows you what we’re dealing with. All those people in custody, charged, released, expected to come back, (but) nobody comes back, obviously.”

Cartwright also shared some strategies and tips to harden a home to help prevent burglaries and thefts. He encouraged residents to utilize the free home security inspections that NBPD offers. He also reminded homeowners to talk to their neighbors and have a relationship with other people on the street, sharing information about anything suspicious and even forming a neighborhood watch group (which NBPD will come and talk to, both big and small groups).

“You don’t need to wait to see a crime or to think one is going to happen,” to call the police, Cartwright said.

He encouraged residents to report suspicious behavior, so officers can check out the situation.

There are also some home security alarms, lighting and landscaping “tricks” residents can utilize. Alarms are great, he said, but some of the South American theft groups realized that most people don’t put an alarm on the second floor and they stack patio furniture to get in through a second story door or window. Motion activated lighting can be placed strategically to help scare off would-be thieves. Plants with big thorns can also be placed up against windows or other access points. There are also devices that can be purchased that shine a variety of colors on a timer and is intended to look like a TV screen.

Sharing some statistics on department performance and service demands, Cartwright said officers do a variety of work (public engagement, interacting with the homeless population, investigations, etc.) but directly responding to calls for service for residents is the top priority.

“This is where the rubber meets the road for us,” he said. “The first mission is public safety, protecting you, your families and your property.”

He’s proud of the statistics, he added, highlighting some key points. NBPD has an average response time of 3 minutes and 21 seconds for priority one calls (violent crime in progress, emergencies, immediate response is needed).

“Those are the ones where it’s the worst thing, probably, you’ve had to experience, you had to hit those three numbers, 911, and you want us there fast to take care of your problem,” Cartwright said. “3:21 is a pretty amazing number.”

That’s faster than most other cities in the region, he added. Priority two (non-emergency, but police assistance required) response time is about five minutes, he added, which still beats response times for most cities’ priority one calls. Approximately 99.7% of 911 calls are answered within 15 seconds.

A few other statistics he shared: There are more than 100,000 computer-aided dispatch events every year and nearly 3,000 arrests each year (about seven or eight a day).

Although those daily arrest averages are a lot higher on certain days, like Fourth of July, Cartwright said.

He recalled when the city previously closed down Balboa Boulevard on the Peninsula. When he first came to NBPD from Los Angeles, he thought it was an unusual practice.

“If you build it, they will come,” he said, quoting the movie Field of Dreams, noting what shutting down the street would bring. “They’re there to party and we’re giving them a spot to party.”

After they re-opened the street, the City Council declared it a safety enhancement zone so all fines, including for loud and unruly gatherings, are tripled, Cartwright explained. They can also evict short-term rentals on-site, he added.

“I think all of those improvements have allowed us to hand that holiday back to the families and the people that live in the area,” he said.

This year’s Independence Day was probably the calmest and smoothest he’s seen in his 21 years with the department, Cartwright said, which was partly due because the holiday fell on a Tuesday, but also because they had ample resources and were on top of things. They arrested 33 people on the Fourth and more than 100 over the entire weekend.

Overall, in June, arrests were up in the categories of theft, robbery and auto theft, Cartwright said. Also to address burglaries, NBPD directed enforcement operations with marked and unmarked units (saturating those areas most hit as reported in the weekly meetings), is working with the OCDA, state and federal representatives, and conducts collaborative operations and intel sharing with neighboring agencies. Those relationships are great and communication is key, he added.

Cartwright also spoke about addressing the city’s homeless population. It’s a team sport, he said, from state representatives to councilmembers to city staff.

“It’s unusual to have a city where everybody is on the same page and rowing in the same direction. That’s really important,” he said. “We all have to work in concert.”

They’ve been making a lot of strides with Be Well, City Net, in-house homeless coordinators, and a city team dedicated to the issue. On the police side of things, they have to work from the legal perspective and there needs to be a criminal nexus. Police officers are constantly in contact with homeless individuals in Newport Beach, he said, so much so that some have even filed complaints that they bother them too much.

“It’s a difficult issue,” he said. “Being homeless is not a crime, but doing certain things when you are (homeless), can be. We need to see those and be aware of those.”

Cartwright said the city has thought outside the box and done things like narrowing sidewalks so tents can’t fit or turning the Civic Center area into a park that closes at night with security guards. The council also partnered with neighboring agencies for shelter beds and, following council’s approval on Tuesday, permanent supportive housing units in an upcoming project in Costa Mesa.

Also, the city’s new anti-camping ordinance that was recently adopted will also be helpful for police enforcement, Cartwright said. It prohibits people from camping on public property, interference with public access, unpermitted structures on public property and certain conduct on public property. The second reading of the ordinance passed unanimously on Tuesday so it can be enforced in 30 days.

“We’re going to be doing that over the next couple of weeks, the education effort to let them know that that day is coming to an end where they’re able to block the sidewalk or obstruct the road,” he said. “We don’t have a problem with them existing, but we want to get them services and this is going to help us get them to some program where they can get some mental health, substance abuse assistance, (and other support). So really the city did it the right way in terms of being humanitarians about it, being fair, legal and ethical. And this new law is the last piece. We had a couple years of really honest, good (humanitarian) work and now we’re going to follow it up with a little bit of enforcement for those that are hanging on by a thread in terms of ‘Should I get help or not?’ and we’re going to help them to get off the street.”

Regarding e-bikes, they’ve been doing everything they can to get the information out, Cartwright said.

“I look at an e-bike from a dad’s perspective and it’s a motorcycle,” Cartwright said. “This is one of those things that the law needs to catch up to technology.”

In the meantime, the Newport Beach Police Department has taken steps on the activity, he added.

Newport Beach police have presented at Ensign, Mariners, Andersen and Lincoln elementary schools, and both Newport Harbor and Corona del Mar high schools. They’ve also collaborated with the Newport Sunrise Rotary Club and presented at the YMCA healthy kids day. Presentations have also been shared at various community groups or events, including previously at a Speak Up Newport meeting.

Officers have also conducted focused enforcement efforts at the problem areas, including around schools and beaches.

“We are aware of it, and we have been addressing it as best we can,” he said.

Addressing another notable topic in Newport Beach, Cartwright said there have been 112 citations year-to-date for modified mufflers or loud exhaust. In a multi-agency collaborative effort to crack down on these vehicles along the coast, NBPD partnered with neighboring cities for operations in June and July, and will again in August. During the June operation, 80 vehicles were stopped, 60 vehicles were cited, six vehicles were inspected by Bureau of Automotive Repair referees and one driver was arrested.

Year to date, NBPD motor officers have issued 3,047 citations and made 173 DUI arrests.

Regarding fraud and phone/internet scams, Cartwright warned residents that if someone calls asking for money or information or claims to know a family member who they say is in trouble, don’t believe it.

“They’ll do everything they can to butter you up and then try to get their sticky fingers into your wallet,” he said.

In general, don’t send explicit photos or money, stop all contact, block the account and report it to the platform if on social media, and report it to the NBPD.

For kids on social media, be communicative about the risks and supervise activity, he advised.


Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.

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