Reducing violent crime has been a focus for Richmond Mayor Gayle McLoughlin and the city council. (Justin Sullivan/Getty)
Richmond’s homicide rate has plunged over the last three years from its historical average, but the majority of killings still occur in the Iron Triangle, along Carlson Boulevard and around 23rd Street, official police data shows.
“It’s easy to see that they occur disproportionately more often in South and Central Richmond,” said Richmond police Capt. Mark Gagan.
Eighteen people were killed in the city in 2012, and last year there were 16 homicides. This year has seen 12 homicides, not including an officer-involved shooting on Cutting Boulevard in September that is under investigation.
An analysis of Police Department data reveals additional trends within the numbers, beyond their relative decline. In the previous decade, the city often saw homicide totals of more than 40 per year.
The average age of the 46 people killed since Jan. 1, 2012 is about 31. The three youngest victims were all 16.
Four of the victims have been women.
African-American victims make up 61 percent of the total, more than double that of Latinos at 24 percent. The city as a whole is 40 percent Latino and 26 percent African-American.
In 2012, 11 of the victims were black. Last year 10 of the victims were black. This year, eight out of 12 victims are black.
The decline in homicides in the last three years reflects a bigger trend; in the last decade, homicides have dropped almost 70 percent, and the current number is the lowest in 33 years.
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, along with her council colleagues, has worked on several initiatives to reduce the violence since she took office in 2007.
McLaughlin said a collective effort has been responsible for the reduction in violence, including efforts from community organizations, the city administration and the police department.
“And of course our community at large has been fully involved by way of looking out for one another and by being active residents through Neighborhood Watch Groups and other efforts,” McLaughlin said.
“The way to continue this reduction of violence is to continue our community policing efforts and our prevention programs; continue to strengthen our neighborhoods as vibrant quality-of-life places […], and to continue to build our re-entry services for those formerly incarcerated,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin also credited the Office of Neighborhood Safety (ONS) in helping to reduce homicides by reaching out to those most likely to commit gun-violence. The ONS was established during her first year as mayor, in 2007.
The ONS works to reduce the crime rate by reaching out to individuals most likely to be involved in shootings, and offers them opportunities to find jobs, get counseling, anger management training, drug and alcohol treatment, etc.
Sam Vaughn, who works with outreach at the ONS, said they “help people make better decisions.”
Another big part of the city’s success in reducing violence is the adoption of the Operation Ceasefire program, Gagan said.
The program, much like the ONS, focuses on identifying the people most likely to be involved in gun violence and working with them to avoid future acts of violence, and helping them to leave gang life behind.
Even with the drop in violence, not all residents feel safe on the streets.
Oscar Garcia, 34, an environmental consultant who grew up in Richmond, said the statistics may have improved, but the task of restoring calm to the streets is not done.
“I definitely hear less shooting, but I still don’t feel safe walking around at night,” Garcia said. “You will rarely see anyone [on the streets] after hours. Even during the day, you see very few kids playing on the street.”
Despite the last decade’s improvements Richmond still has a high homicide rate compared with other cities in the Bay Area. To combat it, Gagan emphasized the importance of continued “community cooperation” with police.
“Reporting what you’ve seen, either on the record or anonymously, allows the detectives to close their cases with a successful prosecution,” Gagan said. “I know some people are fearful to get involved, but their inaction allows crime to persist. Nothing is more powerful than a neighborhood which is united against crime.”