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Salinas
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January 28, 2023

Gonzales named 19th safest small city in California

Community engagement and adapted law enforcement contribute to outcome

GONZALES — AdvisorSmith has announced that Gonzales is the 19th safest small city in California.

The business insurance company used information from the FBI crime reporting from 2019 to make the determination. Small towns in California were categorized based on having fewer than 10,000 residents, for a total of 92 small cities. 

Gonzales was credited with having 6.3 violent crimes and 8.7 property crimes per 1,000 residents. Statewide averages are 9.9 violent crimes and 17.6 property crimes per 1,000 residents. 

“Personally, I have walked the community at hours of the day and night and have never been accosted or threatened by anyone,” said Jose Rios, mayor of Gonzales. “I feel blessed to live in such a great community. We watch out for each other.”

Other South Monterey County cities were categorized at midsize cities, having between 10,000 and 100,000 residents. Of those midsize cities within the Salinas Valley, Soledad was 27th, King City was 65th and Greenfield was 102nd out of the state’s 294 total midsize cities.

“This ranking does not occur without the community,” said Rene Mendez, city manager for Gonzales. “I think it’s a testament to our community and our police department that our stats are what they are.”

Mendez noted the city doesn’t seek out rankings, but instead has worked for years to unite the efforts of the community to increase engagement, shift the police department to using community policing strategies, as well as involvement from both youth and neighborhood groups.

“We’re pleased when folks recognize some of the good work that’s going on,” Mendez said.

He credited the police department with having worked with the community for decades to earn their trust. He said 10 years ago, then-Police Chief Paul Miller began the shift toward a community policing model, which is where police take on more of a community-helper role rather than strictly enforcement. Miller is now a member of the city council.

“We try to recruit officers that believe that model as a way to do policing today in the 21st century,” Mendez said. 

The response to the pandemic has been an example in which police officers have not gone out heavy-handed with citations, Mendez explained, but instead they have focused on education and information when responding to someone ignoring health guidelines.

Youth involvement was also key to the community morale.

“Our youth are an integral part of our community,” Mendez said, noting how the city involved youth not only with volunteering but also in civic service, such as the youth council.

The city has partnered in a 50-50 funding split with the Gonzales Unified School District to hire a school resource officer, in addition to hiring a licensed clinical social worker for the three schools to respond to mental health needs of students.

“Mental health is a significant challenge and issue, which has been exacerbated because of the pandemic,” Mendez said. “Now, we have more of a local resource.”

Overall, the city’s willingness to partner and engage with the community has led to the outcome of recognition for their efforts, Mendez said. The city has hosted virtual meetings to get feedback from residents, including discussions about the Black Lives Matter movement and how it pertains to Gonzales in particular. 

“Sometimes the hardest thing to do is just listen,” Mendez said.

The city also works with the local neighborhood groups and provides grant funding. 

Mendez said the goal is to have groups do more of what they intend to do, and for the city to get out of their way beyond funding and providing meeting spaces. This, he said, allows the groups to develop into the organizations they need to be to serve the community.

Sean Roney
Sean Roney is a freelance reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.

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