One of the biggest debates in Fresno and other California cities is once again about public safety.
“As a city, we need to get back to where we were before 2020. We have passed 70 homicides in each of the past two years, again, unacceptable.” – Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer
Are we safe in our homes or not? What about when we go shopping? And are California’s criminal justice reforms putting us at risk?
The answer is complicated and not easily explained in sound clips or on social media.
However, in Fresno, there has been little improvement in the only crime that dominates the news.
After seeing 74 homicides in 2020, Fresno Police reported 71 in 2021.
In the previous five years, homicides in Fresno were only 32 in 2018. The city had 39 in 2016, 56 in 2017 and 45 in 2019.
“As a city, we need to get back to where we were before 2020. We have passed 70 homicides in each of the past two years, which is again unacceptable,” said Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer. “This will continue to be the primary focus of my administration as well as our chief of police, crime will decrease.”
Why are so many people murdered in Fresno?
What is contributing to the increase in homicides? It’s hard to pin down, but gang violence is a big factor – as it has for decades – according to officials.
“Gang violence is certainly one… but there are many other factors that come into play in violent crime: relationship problems, friendship problems, emotions, occurrences while committing other crimes, alcohol use. , drug use, illegal business transactions, the list can go on. and so on, ”said Fresno Police Department spokesman Lt. Bill Dooley.
“We continue to focus our efforts on tackling and preventing violent crime through proactive, intelligence-driven policing, investigation and assistance from our public. “
During a press briefing on December 3, Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama vowed to reverse the violence.
“We can’t take this anymore,” Balderrama said. “For those who are creating havoc and insecurity in our community, we are chasing you and we are not going to stop.”
What crimes are up, what crimes are down in California?
While statewide crime rates for 2021 are being calculated, a report from the California Policy Lab reported that although crime increased slightly in 2020, it is well below the rates of the 1980s and 1990s.
The overall violent crime rate which includes homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault increased 0.8% in the state and 3.8% in other states between 2019 and 2020. During This time, the overall property crime rate which includes burglary, theft and motor vehicle thefts fell 7.7% in California and 7.9% in the other states.
In an interview with Fox11’s Elex Michaelson last month, the man who launched the state’s criminal justice reform efforts, former governor Jerry Brown, spoke about the complexity of the crime.
“Crime has many factors… You’ve heard of the redistribution of wealth, we need a redistribution of incarceration. In other words, the ones they send to jail for 25, 50, 75, often after a few years they’re ready to go, they’re rehabilitated, ”Brown said.
“And if you’ve got a reintegration program and some sort of control and help, you can work that out, but on the other hand, now we have all these people committing burglaries and ripping and foreclosures, shooting. the heroine on the street, and they just come out.… If we would take the long-term inmates and take them out a little faster and take the short-term inmates, we would put them right out on the street and we put them in… you just can’t throw people in that county jail in downtown LA, it’s not a rehab experience. We need alternatives.… ”
Supporting Brown’s Analysis: A 2021 study published by the Cato Institute found that mass incarceration increased the poverty rate in the United States by about 20%. Another study found that a family’s probability of being poor is 40% higher if the father is incarcerated.
Fresno: a snapshot of 2021 versus 2020
Backing up state data, the Fresno Police Department said it had not seen an increase in overall crime from previous years.
For example, Fresno PD reported 2,869 burglaries in 2020, but that number was much lower in 2021 at around 1,437 – although there was a peak of 3.4% in November.
Theft, vehicle break-ins and theft also all declined in 2020. In particular, auto thefts fell from 14,978 in 2020 to 2,998 through the end of November 2021.
However, some raise an important question: Are companies failing to report crimes because they think nothing will be done about it?
“Not all businesses report petty theft and shoplifting, and have been for years,” Dooley said.
Fresno County Sheriff’s Office figures
The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office reported that auto thefts increased by 25%, vehicle parts thefts by 59%, and shoplifting by 18% as of 2020. But thefts in the buildings fell 36%.
Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said the region is seeing the results of not holding criminals accountable and releasing prisoners into society before they’re ready to return.
“I don’t think that’s a thing,” Mims said. “I think it’s an accumulation over the years of bad laws and initiatives that have been passed, and we feel this pain now because of it all.”
Mayor of Fresno hopes to make a change
Dyer says the crime the city has experienced over the past two years is unacceptable. Like many officials, he says contributing factors include the weakening of California laws and the lack of accountability of criminals.
A lack of public support for law enforcement is also a contributing factor, Dyer says. Many officers do not feel empowered to do their jobs, although they feel that feeling is starting to improve.
Finally, says Dyer, the understaffed Fresno Police Department is handcuffed by an inability to fill vacancies in a timely manner. Thus, it is intensifying its efforts to recruit women officers and officers of color.
“We want to make it easier for candidates to become police officers, especially women,” Balderrama said. “We are always actively seeking more female officers. “
Dyer says his administration will look to add a substantial number of officers in the next budget.
Are California Laws Responsible for the Increase in Crime?
“We need stronger laws to hold people accountable and hold people accountable for their behavior and deter people from committing crimes. Because if the crime has no punishment, there is no deterrent for people to commit it. – Lisa Smittcamp, Fresno County District Attorney
In one media interview Governor Gavin Newsom last month addressed organized shoplifting that has gained wide attention.
“Everyone indicates that prop. 47 is responsible for the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars in flash mobs. 18 and 19? Newsom asked. “I think it’s difficult to assess either one at this point.”
Some lawmakers and police departments blame California laws that began with the passage of Assembly Bill 109 Signed into law by Brown in 2011, the bill redirects defendants convicted of less serious crimes to serve their sentences in local county jails rather than state jails.
“Jerry Brown was faced as governor with a mandate from the Supreme Court that he was to reduce the prison population and instead do what a governor responsible for law and order would have done, which was budgeted to build more prisons so he could alleviate prison overcrowding, he did the opposite, ”Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp said. “This philosophy that began with Governor Brown continues with Governor Newsom. “
Smittcamp says the solution is to build more prisons even though that is an unpopular opinion.
“We need tougher laws to hold people accountable and hold people accountable for their behavior and deter people from committing crimes,” Smittcamp said. “Because if the crime has no punishment, there is no deterrence for people to commit it.”
Salas presents a bill amending Proposition 47
On Tuesday, Assembly Member Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield) introduced AB 1603, which will give California voters another opportunity to change Proposition 47.
“Enough is enough, we must fight the criminals who rob our communities,” Salas said in a press release. “We have seen the unintended consequences of weakening Prop 47 of our theft laws and I think California voters are ready to make their voices heard again on this issue.”
The bill lowers the threshold for prop. 47 for petty theft and shoplifting from $ 950 to $ 400.
To view crime statistics for Fresno and surrounding cities and counties, Click here.