The Chula Vista Police Department / Photo by Sam Hodgson

Chula Vistans are worried about escalating crime in their city.

The only problem: Crime isn’t escalating in Chula Vista.

The results of a survey from the Chula Vista Police Department and the San Diego Association of Governments highlights a disconnect between what’s actually happening in the city, and what residents think is happening. And the messaging coming from Chula Vista officials themselves might be contributing to the confusion.

In March, the Chula Vista Police Department and the San Diego Association of Governments teamed up to ask households throughout the city a series of questions related to law enforcement. They received 814 responses.

Some of the notable findings showed that nine out of 10 residents reported being “very satisfied” with Chula Vista police and that an increase in homelessness and traffic issues were among top concerns.

The findings also showed that while crime has decreased in the city by 6 percent over the last year, an overwhelming majority of residents, 87 percent, thought it had stayed the same or increased.

“There’s an opportunity for us to be more engaged and be able to show people that the crime rate is lower,” said Councilman John McCann during a July 23 City Council meeting.

City leaders have long touted Chula Vista’s reputation as safe city, but while advocating for Measure A in 2018, a sales tax increase meant to raise funds to hire more police officers and firefighters, they painted a different picture. While urging the public to vote yes, city leaders stressed the need for more officers to fight and bring down crime.

“What that will mean is the ability to hire 53 new public safety personnel and 36 firefighters,” Mayor Mary Salas told NBC San Diego 7 last year. “We desperately need them in the city.”

Mailers sent to voters also noted the need for more officers.

“Our police need backup,” read one mailer.

In an opinion piece for Voice of San Diego, Sgt. David Oyos, president of the Chula Vista Police Officers Association, said the city was experiencing “a public safety crisis.”

“At any given time,” he wrote, “there is a backlog of more than 100 violent crime investigations and victims who we cannot contact because we do not have enough detectives to work their cases.”

More recently, City Councilwoman Jill Galvez faced backlash after she announced that she had fired a staff aide so that the city could hire five more police officers and three more firefighters.

The money saved from firing the aide would not have been enough money to hire even one officer.

Chula Vista has the lowest amount of sworn officers-to-population ratio in the county, but since Measure A went into effect earlier this year, CVPD has been struggling to hire more safety personnel. The Police Department has also struggled to meet its response rate for emergency calls for the last couple of years.

While the union has insisted that Chula Vista is facing a public safety crisis, CVPD Police Chief Roxana Kennedy says otherwise.

“I don’t want to use the word ‘crisis’ because it scares our community,” she said. “We’re doing a good job, but we want to do a great job.”

McCann, who supported Measure A, said online community groups have a lot to do with the perception that crime is high.

“Social media plays a big part,” he said. “Smaller issues are put on social, so everybody sees those.”

Salas agreed that social media can influence how people perceive crime, but acknowledged to VOSD that messaging from Measure A could have contributed as well.

“I would hope that it didn’t, but it may have,” she said. “The message that we were trying got conveyed to the public was that ‘Yes, we have terribly low staffing ratios in the Police Department … but it’s a matter of not be able to do proactive policing and a matter imposing so much overtime on our officers that it leads to a great deal of other consequences.’”

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