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By Jonathan Volzke
The word we hear over and over when folks talk about their love of San Juan Capistrano is “community.” Whether it’s because of the beautiful hillsides that encompass us, the history that envelops us or the myriad of events that draw us together, there’s a connection we all feel here, to the city and each other.
That connection fades, of course, the further we travel from home. Differences that divide us in Southern California from those who live north of us dampen a sense of community on a state level. It virtually disappears by the time we move across the United States. We’re all proud to be Americans, of course, but aren’t likely to feel much kinship to those in New York, Chicago or even Connecticut.
Until this month. Sadly, tragedies bring us together, spur us to pray for each other, to reach out to help one another. We see what happened there, we want to help, we wonder if it could happen here. We hold our loved ones a little more tightly.
We want answers, often where none are forthcoming, always where none could be satisfactory. Conn. Governor Dan Malloy perhaps said all that could be said when he simply said “evil visited” Newtown. Predictably, in the wake of the horror, the debate over gun control has intensified, with our own San Juan Capistrano Councilman Derek Reeve sending a letter to the Capistrano Unified School District asking school officials to allow teachers to carry firearms.
I have friends who are gun owners and we all spent some time at the pistol range a couple of weeks ago. I’m not sure more guns are the answer, but I also can’t wrap my mind around gun-control proposals that make sense, either. Turning our teachers into armed militia, however, is ludicrous. Reeve’s proposal comes on the same day I read about a Sheriff’s special officer accidentally shooting himself in the thigh and just months after an elite Huntington Beach SWAT officer was also hit by accidental friendly fire. Putting guns into the hands of teachers, then surrounding them with children makes no sense. I suspect the true answer to tragedies in Newtown will be more pre-screening for those seeking to purchase firearms, perhaps limiting sales to only licensed dealers. More needs to be done, too, in dealing with the mental illnesses often at the root of these incidents.
But even as we watched Newtown mourn, we learned of a less-serious but disturbing act of violence in our own backyard. Mayor John Taylor was attacked as he walked with his wife, Marianne, through the Historic Los Rios District toward their home of 23 years. Mayor Taylor was hit from behind, then kicked repeatedly by two assailants. They didn’t take anything and ran off as Marianne screamed. The mayor was taken to the hospital and released a few hours later.
(A note to those who say it would have been different had the mayor been armed: He was hit from behind without warning, therefore without time to draw a weapon. Had his wife had a weapon, she would have been firing in a very dark street, toward homes. None of those circumstances seem to support the likelihood of a successful outcome to an armed confrontation.)
I’ve stayed in the Los Rios District for a few months here and there, and it is truly a magical place—a micro-community within our own small town. Like many issues in a historic city that evolved over several hundred years—issues there are complex. A natural reaction to this crime would be to increase lighting in the district. But additional lighting was panned by residents and preservationists. Allowing businesses to stay open later—they now close at dusk—would also curtail crimes because of the additional foot traffic in the area, but residents oppose that, too.
Additional law enforcement is always helpful, but remember that our contract with the Sheriff’s Department is already about a third of all of our general-funding spending, and a study by Laguna Hills (another Sheriff’s contract city) showed that San Juan Capistrano’s per capita spending and per capita law enforcement level is the third-highest in south Orange County. The city spends $207 per resident on police services, and we have .81 deputies per 1,000 residents. Dana Point, by comparison, is tops in both categories, spending $274 per resident with a deputy rate of 1.02 per 1,000 residents.
We are well served by the men and women of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Serious crimes dipped 6 percent from 2010 to 2011. Assaults, however, were one category that climbed. Many of those, of course, are emotional, spur-of-the-moment conflicts that no amount of law enforcement can prevent. Our Chief of Police Services, Lt. John Meyer, and the City Council, also took a great pro-active step in reducing crime last year by adding a Crime Prevention Officer who tracks crime trends and organizes efforts to make our community safer.
In the end, we need to accept that our freedoms we demand as Americans and our desire to control our own communities make it impossible to prevent every crime. It is always a complex balancing act, and we, as community, need to discuss the issues and possible solutions. Sometimes we, as a community, will stumble. I take faith, however, in knowing that we will always come together afterward, as a community.
Jonathan Volzke is an 18-year resident of San Juan Capistrano who founded The Capistrano Dispatch. He now works for Faubel Public Affairs. Reach him at email@example.com.