Editorials

Sacramento can build on historic drop in homicides

Police investigators approach a house where two people were found shot to death in south Sacramento last September. For all of 2014, the city recorded 29 killings, the fewest since 1973.
Police investigators approach a house where two people were found shot to death in south Sacramento last September. For all of 2014, the city recorded 29 killings, the fewest since 1973. rbenton@sacbee.com

Whatever’s working, the Sacramento Police Department should keep doing it.

In 2014, the city recorded 29 killings, the fewest since 1973, when Sacramento’s population was half the current 480,000. Sacramento’s body count, which recently peaked at 97 in 1993, hasn’t hit 40 since 2007, as The Bee’s Marissa Lang and Ryan Lillis reported.

It’s not just homicides that are trending down. Violent crime dropped 5 percent and serious crime overall by nearly 15 percent compared to 2013. That means 3,100 fewer victims of crime last year, said Police Chief Sam Somers. The positive effects ripple throughout the city to residents, business owners and visitors.

While patrol officers are working hard on their beats and the department is using more sophisticated data analysis to identify crime hot spots, much of the credit goes to the community. Clergy and others are leading programs to reduce violence in places such as the Mack Road corridor. Residents are getting more involved, some through the social media site Nextdoor.com, others through traditional neighborhood watches. And by agreeing to pay a higher sales tax, Sacramento voters paid for significant reinforcements to the police force – 50 officers in the past year.

Sacramento isn’t alone in the good news. San Francisco, which had 100 killings as recently as 2007, had 45 last year. Oakland recorded 80, but that’s much better than the recent peak of 145 in 2006. San Jose had 32, down from 44 in 2013.

Despite the occasional headline-grabbing case, California is experiencing one of the safest periods in decades. Statewide, the homicide rate in 2013 was the lowest since 1964. It mirrors a nationwide trend over the past decade, with bloodshed plummeting in many big cities such as New York.

Experts offer theories, but there’s no consensus about the demographic, economic, criminal justice and other forces driving the decline. Better policing surely matters, with initiatives focusing on the highest risk offenders and taking advantage of new technology.

Although the causes may not be entirely clear, the lower homicide rate is certainly better than the alternative. Sacramentans need only look down Interstate 5 to see that.

Stockton, with roughly 180,000 fewer people than Sacramento, had 49 homicides last year, up from 32 in 2013.

Stockton police blame many of the same factors that fueled the record 71 homicides in 2012 – gang violence and not enough officers on the street. The department hopes to turn around the trend by adding more than 100 officers in the next three years.

Sacramento is fortunate that it’s further along in restoring budget cuts from the recession. Mayor Kevin Johnson and Chief Somers are working to make the department more diverse and closer to the community. That can only help keep the crime rate down.

Somers, who is in Washington, D.C., this week to attend meetings of the nation’s mayors and major metro police chiefs and sheriffs, has plenty to brag about.

If trends hold and the hard work continues, Sacramento is well on the way to reaching its goal of becoming the safest big city in California. Now that would be an accomplishment worth celebrating.

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