Antioch taps postal, garbage workers in crime fight

It isn’t among the typical tools used to fight crime, but a program unveiled by Antioch police to get garbage collectors and U.S. Postal workers to help reduce crime is getting national attention.

As part of a program dubbed “Looking Out For You,” officials with Antioch’s understaffed police department are asking postal workers and employees of the city’s trash collector — Republic Services Inc. — to give them a hand in spotting crime.

Police stress they aren’t asking for the workers to chase down or apprehend criminals, but to give them a call when they see something suspicious.

As part of the program, postal and trash workers are being trained to identify criminal activity. They’re also being provided with laminated copies of the department’s phone numbers to call if they see something suspicious.

The move comes as the department — like many police agencies in the Bay Area — deals with staffing shortages and a spike in crime.

The city of 102,000 had 126 officers to patrol Antioch’s streets in 2007. That’s now down to 87 officers, contributing to what some city leaders have termed a “crime emergency.”

This week, for example, two people were killed and a third person was wounded in separate shootings during an 8-hour stretch of violence in the city.

Antioch police Chief Allan Cantando says the city experienced a drop in serious crime during the first quarter of the year when compared to last year.

But Cantando acknowledged in a statement the relationship between the number of officers on the street and the crime rate:

 “Although there is no scientific formula, there is a correlation between reduced police staffing and increased crime rates, reduced arrests, and increased response times.”

Cantando says the department is streamlining its hiring process to get the department back to its authorized workforce of 102 officers.

Antioch police have also asked other agencies for help, including the California Highway Patrol and Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department. Cantando says those agencies are dealing with their own staffing shortages:

” There is a shortage of police officers in California. … The media has been covering this story for months. The City of Antioch is competing with other agencies that are looking to recruit qualified officers.”