|Homicide Rate Falls, State of
June 17, 2005
The big news the last couple days has been the call for “a state of emergency” over homicides in Richmond. While there is no question that Richmond is and has been for way too long the venue for too many homicides, it would be instructive to actually consider the facts.
The homicide rate for Richmond is actually down, not up, from what is has been the last couple years. In 2003, Richmond had 35 homicides, and in 2004, the city had 38 homicides. As of June 17th, which is 167 days, or 45.7%, through the entire year, there have been 14 homicides in Richmond, an annualized rate that is statistically some 13% below the last two years.
Perhaps a more accurate headline than “Richmond leaders declare 'emergency' over killings,” would be “Richmond homicide rate drops 13% in first half of 2005 – but leaders press on for further reductions.”
Not only are homicides down; total crimes in Richmond are down 6.74% from last year. Crime statistics are available at http://www.rpdonline.net/main/data/crimestats/crimestats.htm.
Coupled with the “state of emergency” has been a call to increase police expenditures by some $2 million. This is old news. Ever since the voters passed Measure Q, a ½ cent sales tax increase, the City Council has anticipated that a substantial portion would be dedicated to bolstering public safety once the money starts rolling in about mid-year 2005. Some two weeks ago, the city manager preliminarily allocated at least $2 million for increased police-related public safety expenditures as well as significant amounts to what some see as crime prevention efforts by re-opening six community centers and restarting programs for young people.
Television media flocked to Richmond, not to film our 32 miles of shoreline, cover the latest exhibit at the Richmond Art Center or even cover the Rosie event earlier this week at our national park. They didn’t even come to note that our homicide rate has fallen. What they wanted to talk about was the STATE OF EMERGENCY.
Some people are concerned that the nationally televised plea for a “state of emergency” paints a misleading picture about the true direction that crime is heading in Richmond. With the rate of homicides we still have, which is among the tops in the state, I support the additional expenditures on police and the other measures touted by the four councilmembers who decided to go on national TV, but I’m not sure that their appeal changed the orientation or added anything to the direction the City Council was already heading. It may, however, have caused potential investors in Richmond to have pause about the safety ramifications of their plans to buy property and operate job-creating businesses in an area that is in a STATE OF EMERGENCY.
I also have my own theories on overcoming Richmond’s penchant for crime, especially homicides. While it may also cost more money, it focuses more on organization than manpower and is built around the “broken window theory.”
For previous E-Forums addressing crime in Richmond, see CHIEF SAMUELS PRESENTS 2001 CRIME REPORT - REFUSES TO COMPARE RICHMOND TO OTHER CITIES, 7/28/2001, and :
CHIEF SAMUELS PRESENTS 2001 CRIME REPORT - REFUSES TO COMPARE RICHMOND TO OTHER CITIES
On July 26, 2001, Richmond Police Chief Joseph Samuels presented to the City Council Public Safety and Public Services Committee a report on Richmond crime statistics for the first six months of 2001.
Homicides are up 33% over the same period for the year 2000 (12 versus 9), but all other categories are down 12.74%, including rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, auto theft and arson.
Also in the report was a breakdown by beats of each crime category. The City is divided into 17 beats, each of which comprises two to four neighborhoods.
Part 1 offenses, which include homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, auto theft and arson, are highest in Beat 2 (Easter Hill, Santa Fe, Coronado and Cortez), Beat 6 (Iron Triangle - Central and south, and Atchison Village), Beat 10 (Nicholl Park, North and East II) and Beat 13 (Hilltop Green, Fairmede and Whitecliff).
The twelve homicides occurred in six beat areas, but 75 per cent were in two beats, Beat 2 (Easter Hill, Santa Fe, Coronado and Cortez) and Beat 5 (Pullman, Park Plaza, Laurel Park and Monterey Pines).
While the crime statistics, except homicide, are encouraging, I was disappointed that Chief Samuels flatly refused to provide information on how Richmond's crime statistics compare to those of other cities. While comparing Richmond to itself may have value in tracking local trends, it provides no indication of how our city stacks up against the rest of California or the United States. I have repeatedly asked for this to be a part of the chief's periodic reports to the City Council.
Richmond's down trending crime rate may look good in isolation, but it simply mirrors what is happening statewide and nationwide. What Richmond residents would also like to know is how we compare with others. For example, a West County Times analysis in April of this year of homicide numbers from Richmond and other California cities showed:
* The city's per-capita homicide rate ranked second in California among cities with 10 or more homicides in 1999, the most recent statewide data available.
* Richmond's per-capita murder rate in 1999 was more than five times the state rate and more than double that of any other Bay Area city, including Oakland. While Oakland homicides rose more than 30 percent in 2000, Richmond's per-capita rate remained higher.
* A closer look shows that 30 percent of the killings in Contra Costa County during the past decade have happened in an area of Richmond with only 3 percent of the county's population.
* The same area, just three square miles, also accounts for nearly 70 percent of Richmond homicides, and at least as much of the city's skewed reputation for violence.
As a future goal, the police chief wants to keep the number of Richmond homicides at 20 per 100,000 population. The latest FBI statistics (1999) show the nationwide rate for homicides is 5.7 per 100,000 population, making the chief's goal over three times the national average.
May 2005 Richmond Crime Statistics
Reach Rebecca Rosen Lum at 510-262-2713 or
Following five homicides in two weeks, Richmond Mayor Irma Anderson, City Council members and religious leaders held a news conference Thursday to declare that the city is in a "state of emergency."
They promoted a public safety plan that would spend nearly $2 million on everything from more police officers to surveillance cameras and traffic checkpoints.
Council members John Marquez, Maria Viramontes and Nat Bates and the Rev. Andre Shumake joined the mayor to hammer on the crisis theme.
"We cherish our freedom," said Viramontes. "No one likes to live in a police state. It's temporary."
"This is going to be controversial," Bates said. "The ACLU is going to be distasteful, but the ACLU does not live in the Richmond community."
Richmond's more than 400 members would take issue with that, said Mark Schlossbert, a police practices specialist with the American Civil Liberties Union. .
"It's especially in times of crisis that we need to protect our civil liberties," he said. "Band-Aid things like a surveillance camera here and a checkpoint there do nothing to address the underlying problems that contribute to crime."
Councilwoman Gayle McLaughlin has urged putting equal resources into cultural and recreational activities for youths.
The city must reject the perception that it is innately violent, said Marquez, who chairs the public safety committee.
The number of homicides in 2005 so far is 14, essentially what it was a year ago at this time. There were 38 killings total in 2003 and 35 in 2004.
But so many shootings in such a short time recently have shaken residents. And the youth of suspects and victims has long troubled Shumake. He and other religious leaders have been lobbying the City Council to take dramatic steps to curb youth violence for months.
"Our babies' blood is flowing down the streets of the city," he said. "This is a city that is sick with homicides. This is a city in need of healing."
Interim Police Chief Terry Hudson submitted most of the proposals in the public safety plan in May when City Manager Bill Lindsay asked department heads where they would like to see Measure Q sales tax revenue spent.
Hudson's package includes $1.5 million for 15 police officers.
The largest of Hudson's three requests is for $800,000. It would allow the city to hire eight officers for the Violence Suppression Units. These two teams have been in service since February, drawing officers off regular patrol and traffic assignments to work in high-crime areas.
The second proposal, for $400,000, would pay for four detectives to track probationers, parolees and gang members. Hudson this month revived the long-dormant Intelligence Unit, staffing it with one detective and a sergeant.
A third proposal would use $300,000 to keep school-resource officers at Kennedy, Richmond and Gompers high schools. A federal grant that has provided four school-resource officers and a sergeant expires this month, and the department is mulling ways to keep the program going.
The rest of the nearly $2 million from the sales tax would provide for measures such as surveillance cameras, an anonymous phone-tip line and a witness relocation program.
Richmond police have emphasized targeted enforcement this year to combat street violence. They plan to work with the Contra Costa Sheriff's Office, the state Department of Corrections and other law enforcement agencies this summer to flood troubled neighborhoods with a uniformed presence.
Sheriff Warren Rupf and Hudson have talked about working together this summer, sheriff's spokesman Jimmy Lee said, but have not formalized plans. Hudson said he plans to request help from the California Highway Patrol.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in April stationed an agent at the police department full-time at Hudson's request. The agent's presence will help detectives streamline gun investigations and initiate federal prosecution when appropriate, police said.
Although the mayor, council members and Shumake offered seamless support for the "state of emergency," political hairline fractures appeared when it came to specifics.
Since crime has radiated from the Iron Triangle and Pullman into other neighborhoods, Anderson said the program must blanket the entire city. The comment drew a rebuke from Viramontes.
"If the mayor wants this to be citywide, I expect her to ask for additional funding," she said. "I won't have this plan watered down."
RICHMOND - The "state of emergency" declared Thursday by some City Council members over the city's endemic street violence would not likely meet state criteria for disaster assistance, a spokesman for the Office of Emergency Services said.
"That's not the kind of situation that would normally constitute an emergency," said state OES spokesman Eric Lamoureux, between fielding calls Thursday afternoon about a 4.9-magnitude earthquake that had struck Los Angeles.
Council members John Marquez and Maria Viramontes called a news conference Thursday morning to present $2 million in funding proposals for police programs and to "declare a state of emergency in various census tracts in Richmond where violent incidents are occurring."
Lamoureux confirmed that city officials have not contacted the state about making such a declaration, which has a specific meaning in OES parlance. An emergency declaration clears the way for state emergency officials to quickly deliver resources and funding to respond to a local disaster.
"People here say it's an emergency. If people feel they're in a war zone, I believe they are," Viramontes said. "If there's any way to use this so the federal government will join us ... contribute funding ... that would be great.
"We have to see if we can meet the criteria for federal assistance," Viramontes said.
Richmond's disaster lacks the time sensitivity normally associated with a state or federal emergency, Lamoureux said. The city's violent crime reports have remained consistently high for decades.
Violent crime has been up lately. Police have investigated five homicides and mostly unrelated shootings that wounded an additional 11 people since local ministers organized the Richmond Black-on-Black Crime Summit on June 4.
But the city's violent crime statistics this year don't reflect a sudden sharp increase in shootings or homicides:
n According to police department statistics released at the news conference, reports of "Part I" crimes such as assault, robbery, burglary and theft decreased during the first five months of 2005 compared with the first five months of 2004, from 3,173 to 2,959.
n Police investigated 14 homicides this year as of Thursday afternoon, compared to 13 on the same date last year.
n Reports of nonfatal shootings have fallen considerably from 10-year highs established in the mid-1990s, according to department records, though the 2004 homicide total of 35 and the 2003 total of 38 were the city's highest since 1994.
"Crime in any area is not acceptable," said Mayor Irma Anderson. "A death is an emergency."
The most recent killing came Wednesday night, when a man shot and killed 37-year-old Tony Tinsley in the back seat of a Buick Park Avenue in the 3100 block of Groom Drive.
The shooter also wounded 38-year-old Dewayne Creer and 18-year-old Darryl Painter. A 14-year-old boy escaped uninjured when he hit the floorboards.
The group had either just returned or was just leaving for the store to buy drinks to go with dinner when a stranger walked up, struck up a brief conversation, then stepped back and pumped several handgun rounds into the car, police Lt. Alec Griffin said.
Family members told police that Tinsley was a family man who had attended church earlier that day. Detectives found a tambourine beneath his body.
Reach Karl Fischer at 510-262-2728 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Police investigated five homicides in Richmond during the first 16 days of June, the city's highest monthly total since August 2004:
n On Sunday, 26-year-old Antioch resident Brian Payne Jr. was shot and killed about 10:15 p.m. in a car in the 100 block of South 39th Street. A 15-year-old boy was wounded.
n On June 9, 21-year-old Edgar Zepeda Vega was shot and killed about 1:45 p.m. in front of his home near 21st Street and Barrett Avenue.
n On Saturday, 48-year-old Billy Harper was shot and killed on the 400 block of 20th Street about 2 a.m. He was walking home from a Macdonald Avenue bar.
n On Sunday, 24-year-old El Cerrito resident James Joseph O'Dowd was found at 10:19 p.m. near the corner of South 50th Street and Cutting Boulevard with his throat slashed.
n On Wednesday, 37-year-old Tony Tinsley was shot and killed about 11 p.m. in the back seat of a car in the 3100 block of Groom Drive. Two others in the car were wounded.