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Kensington Election Clash over Crimes 'Solved'

One hotly disputed issue in the election for Kensington's governing board is the assertion by incumbent candidate Cathy Kosel that no crimes were solved in 2011. Police Chief Greg Harman called it a "malicious lie." Patch investigated.

Kensington Election Clash over Crimes 'Solved'

For a township of 5,000, Kensington has generated an unusual amount of heat over the upcoming election for two seats on the five-member board of the Kensington Police Protection and Community Services District.

The vote has become in large part a referendum on several issues revolving around the performance of Police Chief Greg Harman, who is also the district's general manager, and the board's oversight of spending by Harman and the police department.

The leading critic is incumbent candidate Cathie Kosel, a former El Cerrito mayor who has been outspoken in her criticism of the performance of Harman and of the board majority allied with incumbent candidate Chuck Toombs, who is president of the board.

One of the charges leveled by Kosel – that no crimes were solved in 2011 – stands out in at least one respect. It not only sparked contention between Kosel's detractors and her supporters, but it also prompted a response from Harman in the form of a press release on Oct. 25 with details of crime statistics for 2011.

The press release concluded:

"To the rumor being spread, 'That no crimes were solved in 2011', this is false. The Kensington Police Department cleared 46 of the 188 crimes reported in 2011 for a clearance rate of 24%." A copy of the press release is attached to this article.

Kosel stood by her contention, which she had made in a mailer to Kensington voters that said in part, "No crimes were solved," referring to last year.

In response to Harman's press release – which was distributed by email and copied to the board members – Kosel said in a reply email to the original recipients:

"You yourself reported 'no crimes solved' for 2011, Mr. Harman. You are now cleverly manipulating the statistics and equating 'cleared' with 'solved.' Cleared, as you yourself explained at a KPPCSD meeting means that there are no longer any leads or new evidence so the crime is 'cleared' from your record BUT NOT SOLVED."

"These are not 'rumors'," she added. "Your report for 2011 said no crimes 'solved.' You are misleading the public and the press. How dishonest!"

Patch asked Kosel what "report for 2011" by Harman she was referring to, and she suggested asking Harman. Harman told Patch he presented a report to the board in January containing crime information for 2011. The report begins on page 25 of the agenda packet for the board meetng that month, he said. It is attached to this article.

Patch did not find a statement from Harman in that report saying that no crimes were solved in 2011. 

Patch again asked Kosel if she could identify the document that she is referring to, and she said she could not find "the data sheet I used."

Patch asked Harman what report Kosel may have been referring to, and he said he did not know.

Patch asked Kosel what she meant by crimes "solved," and she replied that it means that the perpetrator had been arrested and convicted.

So Patch asked Harman if the department has records of convictions, and he said conviction statistics are not tracked or reported by police since the case becomes the province of the district attorney's office (DA) once it is forwarded by police to the DA. He referred the question to the Contra Costa County DA's office

Patch asked the DA's office if it has a record of convictions for Kensington crimes in 2011, and Nanette Wellman of the DA's office said that data on convictions by jurisdiction is not readily available. She said the DA's office received 14 felony cases and 20 misdemeanor cases from Kensington in 2011 and that it filed 1 felony case and 6 misdemeanor cases for prosecution in 2011. She said some additional cases from 2011 could have been filed for prosecution this year.

Asked if the DA's office could confirm whether a conviction occurred if provided with a suspect name and case number, Wellman said yes.

Patch asked Kensington police for a case from 2011 that could be checked for a conviction. Corporal Detective Eric Stegman provided a case where he made the arrest last year, case number 11-1656, in which Tiffani Ann Webster was arrested for vehicle theft and burglary.

Stegman said Webster was convicted of being in possession of a stolen vehicle on Aug. 30, 2011, and sentenced to 90 days in jail plus two years probation. He said that although the department doesn't keep total conviction statistics, he was able to track the outcome of a particular case that he worked on.

Patch asked Wellman of the DA's office if she could confirm that Webster had been convicted. She confirmed both the conviction and the sentence.

Corporal Detective Stegman said approximately 80 percent of the crimes reported in Harman's press release as closed/cleared for 2011 "involved either an arrest or criminal complaint, and was submitted to the DA’s Office for prosecution."

"I can tell you with 100% certainty KPD (Kensington Police Department) is consistently solving crimes, making arrests, and submitting them for prosecution," he said in an email answer to Patch.

Kosel's assertion that no crimes were solved last year also prompted accusations from partisans for both sides in the election.

In a letter to the editor on Patch, Kensington resident Rodney Paul called Kosel's claim "patently false."

While in a guest column on Patch, Kensington resident Anna Shane echoed Kosel's assertion, writing, "On the Kensington police website, Chief Harman listed no crimes were solved in 2011."

Asked by Patch if she could identify what document on the Kensington police website lists no crimes solved, Shane said at first that she wasn't sure and later that evidence for her assertion was her belief that Kosel was not refuted. She also told Patch, "It’s like negative evidence, if he didn’t say any were solved, that means none were."

Related issue on number of crimes

Kosel, in another email response to Harman's Oct. 25 press release, questioned discrepancies in 2011 crime totals reported by Harman at various times, noting, for example, that his January report to the board lists a total of 77 crimes for that year, while his Oct. 25 press release shows 188 crimes for 2011.

"Are these simple mistakes?" she asked. "Manipulation? Lies? Election year funny business? Incompetence?"

A comparison of the January report and Oct. 25 press release shows that some crimes, like identity theft and vandalism, were included in the press release list but not in the January report to the board, which would explain part of the discrepancy.

But at the same time, there are discrepancies in the totals for some crimes that appear in both lists. The press release shows 0 auto burglaries, while the January report lists 10, for example. The press release shows 22 residential burglaries, while the January report shows 18. 

Patch asked Harman for an explanation, and he referred the question to Stegman, who named two main reasons for the discrepancies. First, he said, the January report was chiefly for serious crimes, or crimes categorized as Part 1 by the FBI UCR (Uniform Crime Reporting) standards.

Second, Stegman said, the reason for differing totals for crimes that appear on both lists is that the January report relied on Department of Justice totals that had been recorded by a computer program that turned out to have errors in it.

"We learned there were several coding problems which caused some cases and entries to be omitted from the DOJ report," he told Patch in an email. "Coding problems also contributed to the confusion over how many cases were categorized as cleared/closed."

He said the errors were confirmed by a case count in the police files and that the list contained in the Oct. 25 press release offers more accurate statistics.

Kosel is conducting her campaign with a runninng mate, Jim Hausken, while Toombs is campaigning on a slate with Patricia Gillette. A fifth candidate, Kim Zvik, is running as an independent.

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For more election-related news, check the Patch section on elections.

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