Merced by the numbers last week

Submitted: Jun 01, 2015
By: 
Badlands Journal editorial board

 Like most Mercedians, our attention was grabbed by Friday's frontpage stories in the Sun-Star. Above the fold, we saw the headline: "Area manufacturing growth fastest in U.S." Below the fold, we read "Gang probe yields guns, drugs."

The top headline was such a typical bit of the cognitive dissonance we expect from the Sun-Star that we moved to the cops-and-robbers story on the theory, reached entirely unconsciously over the first cup of coffee, that the second story might be more realistic.

The "sweep," months in the making, had its own name, "Red Right Hand," perhaps a spanking metaphor or a reference to right-handed thieves. Although the paper did not hazard a guess about the number of cops involved, it did list the law-enforcement agencies: Merced police, California Highway Patrol, Merced County Sheriff's Department, Los Banos police, Livingston police, California Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, Merced County Probation Department, California parole agents, Merced Multi0-Agency Narcotics Task Force and the Merced District Attorney's office. Drivers on SR99 reported both early in the morning and in early evening a long line of squad cars arriving in and leaving from Merced.

The sweep reportedly resulted in 75 arrests, seizure of 5,000 pirated DVDs, $85,000 in cash, 1,500 pseudoephedrine pills, 3 pounds of cocaine, 4 pounds of methamphetamine, 1 pound of heroin, 50 pounds of marijuana, and 11 firearms.

Not a bad haul, but not much to split among all those agencies.

Overall, the raid or sweep left the impression that local police forces are incapable of handling the amount of organized crime that has moved into the county and must call in additional troops. The sheriff in fact promised more sweeps of the same sort. Ever since last summer's Board of Supervisors' debate on marijuana growing in the county, the public mind has at least acknowledged the carnage appearing in the daily news.

The real cats dancing on skillets are local elected officials who, on the one hand wish to support the police (as long as they don't have to ask their constituents to pay the price for the security they demand), but on the other hand, they must kowtow to the real estate bigshots who want no word of crime in Merced to be spoken. Nevertheless, how many of the people arrested in the City of Merced sweep were renting residences managed by the same property management companies? Oh well, they go to jail, vacate the premises, and it's another fee for a new rental. It's just business and if the companies don't play the game, someone else will.

On the front page below the fold, in semi-bold, blue print, the newspaper states:

Merced County has reported 11 homicides in 2015, many of them gang-related. Last year, authorities said, there were 32 homicides reported in the county, the most in Merced County history. Fifteen of them were reported in Merced, a record for the city.

On the jump page of the article, the paper states in the same sidebar blue:

"The last two years have been the bloodiest in  Merced County's history, with more than 60 homicides." District Attorney Larry Morse II.

Well, which is it, more than 60 or 43?

Is Morse exaggerating or are we watching another round in the Sun-Star's efforts to diminish another DA? A district attorney that vigorously prosecutes crime, inevitably draws public attention, particularly when half the law enforcement in Northern California seems to be involved. The well-known reputation of Merced as a haven for gang members is strengthened. As we know from commercials on Fresno TV advertising weekend courses in how to make millions in real estate with no money and no knowledge of real estate, the market is coming back. Yet it seems to us that the police, other than constantly asking for more funds, have been remarkably quiet about their work despite the frequent mention of homicide and gun violence in the county.

We favor the DA's number, figuring he probably considered some unidentified corpses to be at least temporary residents before finding their final resting place in some of our abundant nut orchards.  We chalk up the disparity in numbers to the general shakiness and loss of nerve that beset the Sun-Star newsroom whenever a bit of real news comes its way.

The story above the fold, "Area manufacturing growth fastest in US," is a regurgitated press release from a business consulting firm in Austin TX, no doubt fed the newspaper by local clients of the Texas consultants. A bold blue sidebar nails you between the eyes with "26.2 PERCENT" the purported increase in Merced's manufacturing jobs since January 2014. On the jump page it states that in January 2014, there were 8,400 manufacturing jobs, while in January 2015, there are 10,600. And 400 more jobs have been added since January, according to the body of the story. Missing from the story's abundant statistics is the 14-percent unemployment in January compared with 6.9 for California as a whole. Adjusting per guidelines laid out on the highly regarded shadowstatistics.com, make that 28-percent real unemployment in Merced in January.

Could there could be a relationship between 28-percent unemployment rate and the crime rate?

We haven't missed a Merced City Council meeting or a Merced County Board of Supervisors meeting in years. And all we ever hear at those meetings about economic development is a litany of contacts with and failures to land manufacturers.

Considering this, we began to inquire about the Texas consulting firm that produced this amazing statistic: Headlightdata.com. We found that it was the creation of someone called Chris Engle, a person with an extensive background in consulting with governments of development, coupled with remarkably little educational background and only two years of actual work in community development for a municipality.

After conducting our own futile search for some confirmation of the amazing statistic from an outside source or the government, we concluded that the amazing statistic is itself a product of a new manufacturing process. We imagined that Engle of Headlightsdata has devised a new way of calculating the statistics of manufacturing employment. 

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