Keep calm and be smart on crime

Family, friends and neighbors created an impromptu memorial to Isaiah Diaz, 16, who was shot and killed on Oct. 3 in south Sacramento.
Family, friends and neighbors created an impromptu memorial to Isaiah Diaz, 16, who was shot and killed on Oct. 3 in south Sacramento. rbenton@sacbee.com

Sacramento’s spike in violent crime this year is cause for concern, but not cause for panic.

Responding to the report in Sunday’s Bee that detailed a 24 percent increase through August compared to the same period last year, Mayor Kevin Johnson did what politicians tend to do: He summoned top police officials for a summit meeting this week.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s entirely sensible to see whether there are any specific causes that can be addressed.

It’s also entirely possible, however, that the Police Department won’t be able to find any obvious reasons for the uptick – or any quick-fix solutions.

As The Bee’s Phillip Reese reported, the surging violence is not evenly spread throughout the city, but is concentrated in historically more dangerous, high-poverty neighborhoods – namely the south Sacramento patrol district that includes Meadowview and the Mack Road corridor, and the north Sacramento district that covers Del Paso Heights and Robla.

Since these are also areas where gangs are active, it suggests that the city’s anti-gang efforts may require beefing up. Police say several recent killings involved gangs.

After a recent rash of homicides, the city’s count stood at 35 through early this month, the most since 2008 at that date.

But the public and politicians have to recognize that part of why the increases appear so alarming is because they follow historic lows in violent crime.

Last year, Sacramento recorded 29 homicides, the fewest since 1973, when Sacramento’s population was about half the size. The previous five years, the homicide count didn’t get out of the 30s. Serious crime overall plummeted by 15 percent last year, on top of a 10 percent drop in 2013.

Also, Sacramento isn’t alone in this. Other cities around the state and nation are also struggling with more homicides. That hints at broader forces in society at work – even if there’s no consensus on what those factors are – just as demographic shifts helped drive down violent crime in recent years.

It wasn’t wise to pop champagne corks and rest on laurels when violent crime dipped, so it doesn’t make sense to overreact now that crime is increasing again.

Public safety is the city’s top responsibility, and any homicide is a horrible tragedy. But we need to take a deep breath.

If there are some short-term answers, that’s great. Still, the city’s fundamental anti-crime efforts – adding officers to patrols, diversifying the police force, enhancing cooperation with clergy, neighborhood leaders and others – will matter far more over the long term.