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Violence puts quiet town on alert

Residents help boost anti-crime efforts

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UNIVERSAL CITY — Three gunfire incidents in less than a week — considered by many as unusual for this peaceful town — do not signal a surge in lawlessness, say civilian groups helping police keep the city safe.

Daniel Hancock, coordinator of Universal City Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association’s Neighborhood Watch Program, said violent crime here is rare.

Local residents excel in assisting law enforcement to preserve order, he added.

“This is a safe community. There’s no rampant crime here,” Hancock said. “We have a strong police force. We are a relatively quiet community compared to our neighbors.”

Universal City Police Department officials didn’t respond to requests for comment on the cases, which remain under investigation.

Alumni association President Harry Finke said, however, during monthly sessions officers usually speak to the group about recent crimes.

“We heard about the shootings at our latest meeting (in September),” Finke noted. “Detective (Daniel) Carmona said there was not much he could share with us about the cases at this time.”

Finke, who has been a resident about 10 years, added gunfire in town is uncommon.

“From what I have seen of crime and observing crime statistics and the police blotter, shootings are rare,” Finke said. “We have more problems with loose dogs than we do crime. I feel safe walking around the neighborhood at night.”

In a four-day span, officers responded to three shooting calls.

Public reports released by police provide some details:

• 3 a.m. Aug. 31 — A 14-year-old girl was detained for investigation after a woman was injured by gunfire in the Palisades Park Apartments at Pat Booker Road and Palisades Drive.

• 5:16 a.m. Sept. 2 — A 21-year-old woman and 32-year-old man were detained after officers responded to a report of gunfire at the Villa Mesa Apartments in the 100 block of Villa Drive.

According to police reports, officers seized a Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm pistol with seven rounds of mixed hollow-point ammunition and a JA-Nine 9mm with four rounds. A Mossberg 702 Plinkster rifle with four rounds was also recovered, along with four shell casings, four bullets/fragments and suspected marijuana.

• 4:54 a.m. Sept. 3 — Officers were dispatched to the Randolph Plaza Apartments in the 1000 block of Pat Booker Road to investigate reports of gunshots. Eleven shell casings and seven rounds were recovered from a sidewalk.

Such disturbances are unusual for the township clustered around Randolph Air Force Base, neighbors said. One of the last violent crimes to occur took place in 2017 when a physician assistant was fatally shot during a home invasion.

In August, the Police Department began sharing with the public a weekly crime blotter on its Facebook page.

Department officials in the past said they want community members to be aware of the calls for service answered by officers, as well as the general areas of town where the incidents are reported.

The knowledge also helps residents stay better informed, communicate suspicious activity and prevent additional crimes.

In the blotter excerpts logged in September, officers reported 15 warrant arrests, seven vehicle break-ins, six drug cases, four hit-and-run accidents, four family-violence incidents, two driving-while-intoxicated infractions, two public-intoxication incidents and one burglary of a habitation.

Hancock said the majority of area offenses are thefts from autos.

“You would be surprised how many people just don’t lock their cars,” he said.

Hancock added the city’s volunteer watch program is robust, with 34 block leaders assigned to serve as points of contact in about 45 neighborhoods.

“We encourage people to call in if they see anything suspicious. We pass on crime reports and alerts to the community,” Hancock said. “The most recent crime alert we sent out was a phone scam from the Dominican Republic.”

Finke, who became president last year, said the alumni group has a strong relationship with the Police Department, which has been very proactive in efforts to bridge the gap between officers and neighbors.

The Citizens Police Academy alumni association has more than 70 members, with about 35 attending the regular monthly meetings. There have been nearly 300  graduates from the academy since 1996.

The alumni association began in 2007.

“Some of us have been members since the alumni association started,” Finke said. “Every year we get new members.”

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