With one notable exception, reported significant crime in Martinez was down in 2020 more than 10 percent from the previous year, Martinez Police Chief Manjit Sappal recently told the Martinez City Council.

In a subsequent email, Sappal said rape cases decreased by more than 29 percent in 2020 from 2019; robberies were down 7.7 percent; aggravated assaults were down 12.5 percent; and simple assaults were down 18.02 percent over the previous year.

Martinez had one homicide in 2020, and none in 2019, Sappal said.

Of major property crimes, larceny (thefts with a value of $50 or more) were down 22 percent. Reported vehicle burglaries were down more than 19 percent from 2019 levels, residential burglaries were down 21 percent, and commercial burglaries were down by almost 8 percent.

The glaring exception to these positive numbers was vehicle thefts, which were up by more than 57 percent in 2020.

“We are challenged with the increase in auto thefts,” Sappal said in an email. “This crime seems to trend up and down depending on whether groups are coming to the city to steal cars; cars are usually stolen to commit crimes, and in the past we have worked with (law enforcement) agencies in the region to curtail these thefts by focusing on known offenders.”

The city’s first Automated License Plate Readers, installed in 2018, likely helped reduce vehicle thefts in 2019; more such cameras are planned for Martinez in the future, and Sappal said he hopes they will help reduce the vehicle theft numbers once again.

As for the decreases, Sappal said part of that has been due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “More people are at home and can provide better guardianship over their neighborhoods by watching for suspicious behavior,” he said. “We rely on the community to call us and report suspicious behavior — I think that we have a large number of our residents that do so and that not only helps us intervene sooner, but it also sends the message to offenders that our community pays attention.”

Police can tailor their approach to fighting specific crimes, Sappal said. This year, given the vehicle theft numbers, Sappal said his officers can focus on crime prevention measures, including community outreach, making sure officers patrolling neighborhoods are aware of spikes in crime and paying attention to known suspects. Last year’s spike in commercial burglaries also brought a tailored response, the chief said.

Martinez Mayor Rob Schroder asked Sappal why some suspects in non-violent property crimes get arrested, and released, again and again. Sappal explained that the state’s efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 in the jail and prison system have resulted in the release of all but those charged with violent felonies and misdemeanor domestic violence charges.

“We’ve been instructed to catch and release any other arrestees, and there’s not much we can do about that,” Sappal told Schroder. “We share that frustration, as well.”