Although the Lodi Police Department is currently understaffed, Sgt. Ricardo Garcia said they have been able to make arrests in all but two of this year’s nine homicides so far.
Only the fatal Jan. 23 shooting of 19-year-old Francisco Hernandez Jr. and the fatal May 26 shooting of 41-year-old Raymond Sieg remain unsolved, Garcia said.
“We use a team approach and keep going as much as we can in the first couple of days,” Garcia said. “Everyone that’s available comes out and works the initial scene.”
Once the detectives arrive, one is assigned as the primary investigator, another processes the scene for evidence and the others canvas the area for witnesses or video surveillance.
“We’re just trying to develop suspect leads, we’re looking at everything we can at that time,” Garcia said.
If the detectives exhaust their initial leads without identifying any suspects, Garcia said they would then explore other avenues such as reaching out to the public through the media in an effort to find new information, with citizens either contacting the Lodi Area Crime Stoppers or speaking directly to detectives.
“The majority of our homicides have not been gang-related, and that really helps,” Garcia said. “I don’t know what it is, but people are more willing to come forward.”
Patrol officers also play a vital role in helping to solve homicides, Garcia said, controlling crime scenes and identifying witnesses.
“I’ve got to give credit to our patrol officers,” Garcia said. “They’ve done a great job.”
In the case of the fatal Aug. 18 shooting of 19-year-old Trevor Seabourne at Lodi’s In-N-Out Burger, Garcia said patrol officers were able to arrest 20-year-old Leonardo Alcantara on suspicion of accessory to murder and weapons violations and 19-year-old Andres Valdivia on suspicion of murder and several weapons violations within hours of the shooting.
Although some homicides take longer to solve than others, Garcia said he and his fellow officers have been able to get the job done through a combination of teamwork and determination.
“You get called out in the middle of the night and you’re there until late the next day, and someone takes over from there,” Garcia said. “It really is a team effort.”
In addition to teamwork, Detective Michael Hitchcock feels that most of this year’s homicides were solved by detectives working overtime and using what he calls “old-fashioned police work,” — interviewing witnesses and suspects, reviewing physical evidence such as fingerprints and shell casings and collecting video surveillance — rather than new advances in technology.
“We’ve had some good luck with fingerprints, but it’s mostly been us coming in on our time off, buckling down and getting stuff done,” Hitchcock said.
Hitchcock said it is not uncommon for a detective to work for up to 15 hours straight when first called to a homicide, followed by even more time spent investigating the homicide, waiting for warrants and filling out paperwork.
“If you were to add up all the time between all the detectives, it’s probably a couple hundred hours of investigation until we make an arrest,” Hitchcock said.
In addition to solving homicides, Hitchcock said detectives still have to work their usual cases — including gang-related crimes, child abuse, burglary and adult abuse — all without two of their usual eight detectives.
Detectives also have to participate in various state-mandated trainings throughout the year, Hitchcock said, further decreasing the amount of time they have to spend working on homicides and other cases.
“All of our caseloads are pretty full, but fortunately we’ve been able to keep up with all the work we’re doing,” Hitchcock said.
Chief Tod Patterson agreed with Garcia and Hitchcock about the importance of teamwork not only with their fellow officers, but also with the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office and other law enforcement agencies. He also praised the hard work of the officers under his command.
“They just continue to amaze me with the work they’re able to do with the staffing they have,” Patterson said.