OPD senior crime analyst Mike Smith does much more than just crunch numbers

By Greg Hardesty

They’re called “frequent fliers,” but they never earn bonus miles or get bumped to first class.

In law enforcement, the slang term refers to subjects who are arrested on a regular basis.

Patrol officers and jailers obviously know the frequent fliers in their jurisdictions.

So, too, do crime analysts — the behind-the-scenes professionals who use computer technology, such as mapping, to track spikes in crime that then can be addressed through targeted enforcement.

The job is much more nuanced then simply putting dots on a map and adding up numbers.

“I look at the (crime) trends, but I also take into consideration who’s in jail, who just got out of jail and who is associating with who,” says Mike Smith, Orange PD’s senior crime analyst since the position was created in September 2005. “I get to know the people in the city and what their history is.”

As a poster child for Orange’s most prolific frequent flier, it would be hard to top Evgeny Zachary Stayton, 26, who with his twin brother, Sergey, was adopted from Russia by a woman from the L.A. area. She was a former gang member who eventually got cleaned up and adopted the two boys.

Smith isn’t sure when things turned south for the brothers, but they both have a criminal history in Orange.

Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

In the case of Evgeny Stayton, whose numerous aliases include “Zach” and “Grinch,” that criminal history is a doozy.

Since committing his first crime in Orange County in June 2011, Stayton has racked up 288 contacts in a countywide database.

Nearly all of Stayton’s arrests and field contacts, which work out to an average of about one a week, have been with OPD.

“He’s not alone,” Smith says of frequent-flier Stayton. “There are a lot of them out there.”

Evgeny Stayton is shown (left) in an Oct. 4, 2011 warrant arrest photo for misdemeanor grand theft in San Bernardino County. Most of his arrests have been for property crimes, including theft from a vehicle. He also has a history of trespassing and drug use/possession. The photo at right, taken on July 24, 2013, is after his arrest for trespassing and possession of a switchblade. Booking photos courtesy of OPD

Stayton, who has a history of methamphetamine abuse, specializes in the relatively low-level crime of poaching valuables from usually unlocked vehicles.

Stayton has been in and out of jail so often because property crimes yield relatively little time behind bars.

“Until you assault somebody, you get a slap on the wrist,” Smith says. “When he gets out of jail, he goes back to work. It’s what he does.”

Stayton has a regular crew of associates, some of who have left the city over the years, as well as a girlfriend, Smith says.

Stayton typically stays in the north end of the city, committing thefts in the area of the Village at Orange mall on East Village Way and areas where he can walk to from the North Tustin Street area, Smith says.

For at least the last four years, Stayton has been homeless. Sometimes he sleeps at his girlfriend’s house, or in the laundry room of apartment buildings — even unlocked vehicles, Smith says.

Such detailed knowledge of Stayton comes with the numbers-crunching duties with which Smith is tasked.

Every week, he presents at briefings watch-specific handouts about crime trends.

Evgeny Stayton (left) after his arrest on Feb. 23, 2016 for possession of stolen property and after his arrest on March 19, 2016 for being under the influence of a controlled substance. Booking photos courtesy of OPD

And every month, he presents detailed mapping data to members of the OPD command staff.

Smith uses a Geographic Information Sytem (GIS) mapping program to help track crime trends and frequent flier contacts in proximity to crimes. That information is presented at a monthly command staff meeting known as CompStat. CompStat is named after the original one first implemented by the New York PD in the mid-2000s.

Although the NYPD’s CompStat was a broad management accountability effort, many law enforcement agencies such as the OPD have adopted stripped-down versions of CompStat that focus on crime trends.

At OPD monthly meetings, Smith presents a review of crime activity in the city, and compares those numbers to the previous month as well as the same month in the prior year.

“The idea is to be constantly reassessing (our performance) with the goal of bettering our procedures,” Smith says.

For example, if there’s a rash of vehicle burglaries being committed in a certain area around a certain time, the OPD will deploy extra patrol officers in the hopes of catching the bad guys in the act.

Crime trends constantly change, Smith says. For example, in 2016 in Orange residential burglaries were down 40 percent, but commercial burglaries were up. In 2017, the stats flipped-flopped.

Evgeny Stayton (left) after his arrest on May 14, 2017 for being under the influence of a controlled substance and after his May 15, 2017 arrest for theft from an auto in Orange, and possession of stolen property from a vehicle burglary two blocks away in Anaheim. Booking photos courtesy of OPD

Smith graduated from Glendora High School and earned a degree in computer information systems from Cal State Poly, Pomona.

He dabbled in real estate and other careers before earning a full-time living as a computer geek.

Between 2003 and September 2005, Smith worked for an outside company that had an IT contract with the City of Orange. In that capacity, Smith ran the CAD and records system at OPD. After the agency hired Smith as its first crime analyst, he took eight courses at Cal State Fullerton to earn his certification in Crime and Intelligence Analysis.

Now 53, Smith typically gets to work early at the OPD to start digging through the crime activity that has occurred since he last was at work — and seeing what chronic perps like Stayton are up to.

Last year, the frequent flier was up to a lot.

On April 26, 2017, members of the OPD’s HEART (Homeless, Engagement, Assistance and Resource Team) drove Stayton to Colton to reunite with his mother and to attend a drug rehab clinic for his meth addiction. Within three weeks, however, Stayton left rehab and, on May 13, 2017 took a bus back to Orange.

On the bus ride to Orange, Stayton smoked meth with a male and female, according to the OPD. When he arrived in Orange, patrol officers responded to a call of a suspicious person and found him under the influence and arrested him.

OPD crime analyst Mike Smith: “I love the challenge of putting the pieces together.” Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

At 4 a.m. on May 15, 2017, Stayton was back to his old habit of entering and stealing items from unlocked vehicles. He was caught with a backpack containing stolen items and arrested for theft from an auto in Orange, and possession of stolen property from a vehicle burglary two blocks away in Anaheim.

Smith lets patrol officers know whenever Stayton, as well as other “frequent fliers” in Orange, gets out of jail so they can keep an eye out for him.

Ninety-five percent of people who get arrested in Orange have a dope-related background, Smith says.

Often, Smith’s work leads to arrests.

On Oct. 2, 2015, the Irvine PD sent out a bulletin for a package theft suspect, which included photos of the female suspect and vehicle.

After more research, Smith correctly identified the make and model of the suspect vehicle. On Oct. 7, 2015 he provided an IPD detective with the correct license plate number of the vehicle along with the names of two possible suspects.

On Oct. 8,2015,  the Irvine PD replied that they had both suspects in custody at that time, and interviewed the female suspect. The female suspect admitted to the package theft, resulting in an additional charge.

On two days in mid-January 2016, Smith sent out a report that highlighted a countywide continuing crime series at Little Caesar’s pizza where the suspects were stealing credit card information from the credit-card processing device at the front counter. The suspects would break into the business and later return the machine to the counter.

On Jan. 24, 2016, a patrol arrest was made at Little Caesar’s Pizza at 211 W. Katella Ave. Officers set up surveillance at the location waiting for the suspects to return after the initial break-in. Two suspects were arrested, ending the crime series.

And in early 2016, Smith sent out a weekly report that contained information about a vehicle burglary series in the southwest area of the city. He recommended that patrol officers saturate the area during Watch 1 and Watch 3 hours.

The next night, that suspect was arrested by Watch 3 patrol officers who were saturating the area. The suspect stated he had been stealing items from vehicles for the previous month, and also had stolen items from abandoned vehicles in the area.

Smith says he loves his work.

“I love the challenge of putting the pieces together,” he says.

He compares it to the old TV game show “Concentration,” in which contestants revealed pieces of a rebus-like puzzle.

“I’d like to think what I do makes a difference,” Smith says. “They tell me it does.”