RICHMOND — A San Francisco Bay Area city once considered among the most dangerous in the nation has seen its homicide rate plummet even as killings in other cities in the region have climbed.
Eighteen people have been killed in Richmond this year — the lowest number since 2001, the Contra Costa Times reported (http://bit.ly/U6xjfz) on Monday. That’s down from 26 last year and 45 three years ago and about half as many as the yearly average over the past decade.
Meanwhile, murder rates in San Francisco and San Jose have risen.
It’s not clear whether the lower homicide rate is the new norm for Richmond. Statistics show homicides increased slightly from 2010 to 2011.
And the city of 103,000 still has a higher per-capita homicide rate than San Francisco and San Jose.
Still, it has come a long way over the past several years, including in 2005, when a spate of killings over the summer prompted some to call for help from the National Guard.
“Back (in the mid-2000s), the violence had taken over,” said Otheree Christian, president of the Iron Triangle Neighborhood Council. “Now people are hopeful and empowered.”
Parks that had become hangouts for drug dealers are now filled with kids, and neighborhoods marked by frequent gunfire have dog walkers and cyclists, the Times reported.
Among the factors credited with Richmond’s turn-around is an increase in its police force by 40 officers to 190 sworn officers over the past six years and an emphasis on community policing. Officers try to establish relationships with residents to prevent crime instead of focusing solely on crime suppression.
Community groups and the city’s Office of Neighborhood Safety have helped with that effort. The Office of Neighborhood Safety employs agents who reach out to young men and teens identified as potential violent offenders.
“Richmond is doing a lot of things right, and that’s helping them buck a trend,” said Barry Krisberg, research and policy director at the Earl Warren Institute at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law.
But others urge caution in trying to identify the causes of Richmond’s homicide decline, saying luck and factors out of the city’s control may also be playing a part.
Veteran officers say the numbers could climb at any time as they did in 2009, when a group of teens with assault weapons unleashed a rampage. The city saw 45 homicides that year.