Benicia police chief praises residents for helping solve crimes

BENICIA, Calif. (KTVU) - He's only been on the job for about a month but Benicia's top cop is getting a good look at just how committed that community is to safety.

"You really sense this strong bond of community," says Benicia Police Chief Erik Upson.

The strength of that bond may be even more apparent when you take a close look at three recent attempted burglary cases that landed five people behind bars.

The tie that binds all of those cases is community involvement.

The chief says, "there's no police department that can police a city by themselves - it just can't happen," and if the residents didn't step in he says, "it's quite likely the suspects would have escaped."

The first attempted burglary happened on Dorset Way.

The chief says the two suspects tried to break into a home thinking it was empty. When the residents came to the door, the suspects fled.

However, they didn't get far. At least six people called 9-1-1 and then did what they could to keep them from getting away.

"In the course of fleeing a whole bunch of residents really stepped forward to help us out either following them around the block over and over again calling and making phone calls," explained Chief Upson.

Two people were arrested.

Lt. Frank Hartig told KTVU, '"they do have criminal histories; one of them was actually wanted."

Then just this week it happened again on a different street but with a similar result.

Neighbors on West K spotted a suspicious vehicle in their neighbor's driveway.

"They actually came in and blocked the car in the driveway so their car couldn't get out," says Upson. "They saw their neighbor's home was potentially being burglarized and then our officers came in and set up a perimeter around the suspects down here."

In that case the suspects got away but police believe they came back to that same neighborhood on Tuesday.

Alert neighbors called 9-1-1 again and three people, all on probation, were taken into custody.

Lt. Frank Hartig has been with the department for 28 years and says the city has a reputation with criminals.

"We have a reputation if you come over to Benicia and you commit a crime there's a good chance you are going to get caught," says Hartig.

The chief acknowledges that Benicia doesn't face the same challenges as other urban agencies.

"There are agencies that are so overwhelmed it's really difficult to make those community connections," admits Upson.

But he says Benicia is unique and one month into the job he seems to be embracing that with both hands.

He wrote thank you cards to all the witnesses in the case, thanking them for their help.

He says he was excited to come to this town and now the residents have "inspired me to set our vision here even higher."