Homicides are on the rise across California, and blame experts are turning their outrage against the usual suspects.
Gavin Newsom. Proposals 47 and 57 to reduce penalties for nonviolent crimes and facilitate early release from prison. Progressive District Attorneys. democrats.
But deeper in the data released by State Atty on Thursday. Gen. Rob Bonta is a more complicated story that defies these simple narratives of a failed California with its reckless efforts at criminal justice reform. The greatest risks for homicides were in conservative counties with ironclad sheriffs and prosecutors, places where progressive rulers are almost as common as monkeys riding unicorns.
Kern County tops the list of places most likely to be murdered — with a homicide rate of nearly 14 people per 100,000, compared to about 6 per 100,000 statewide and 8.5 per 100,000 in Los Angeles County. The annual number of people murdered (a legal term that implies a conviction, but you get my meaning) in Kern has nearly doubled since 2015 to 124 people last year.
Former President Trump, who rightfully lost the 2020 election, won almost 54% of the count in Kern. Trump toady and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also prevailed in Kern with 64% of the vote. My colleague Gustavo Arellano introduced Donny Youngblood, the Kern County Sheriff, and pointed out that he’s a dying breed of old-school lawman, not one who takes the soft approach.
Merced County had the second-highest homicide rate at 9.5 per 100,000 residents. Merced is a political mess, as a “blue wave” of Bay Area refugees and political converts has turned this agricultural stronghold into an almost equally divided county, but where Democrats are far from winning an election.
Third place goes to Tulare County, which runs south from Delano to just north of Visalia, where people were violently killed at a rate of 8.8 per 100,000. Trump received nearly 53% of the vote there in 2020, and McCarthy, who also represents part of the territory, received nearly 59%. Recently, after two suspects in a fentanyl bust were released on bail, Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux told Fox News that “California’s justice system is failing us all.”
It’s safe to say that none of these counties coddle their criminals — the president’s inclinations don’t define politics, but they are an indicator of how local politicians and law enforcement think about and deal with crime. Yet not only do these boroughs share the same problems as dark blue Los Angeles and San Francisco—poverty, homelessness, drugs—they also fare worse on homicides. That’s true, even considering that a few homicides in less populated counties can mean big jumps in the stats from year to year.
At the other end of the spectrum is Contra Costa County, which has successfully surpassed the state average in crime and has one of the only openly progressive prosecutors in Diana Becton (alongside Los Angeles’ George Gascón).
Despite an uncompromising focus on “going beyond a single narrative that incarceration is the answer to everything,” she told me, the county holds its own when it comes to safety.
Contra Costa’s homicide rate has increased slightly compared to last year – but is still around 4 per 100,000 people.
So the idea that progressive policies lead to more violent crime is just as misplaced as the idea that tough action deters criminals.
Where does that leave us in understanding the numbers?
There are two things we should talk about: guns and NIMBYism.
First, we swim in cannons. drown in them. Becton told me that there are now “more guns in the hands of men than I believe in history”.
The vast majority of our homicides and aggravated assaults involve firearms—1,734 of 2,361 homicides recorded in California in 2021 involved a firearm, a 33% increase in firearm-related homicides since 2012. That’s about 75% of the time when a Californian is murdered, the cause of death is a bullet. So-called ghost guns, legal guns, automatics, shotguns. Anyway, someone committed a crime with it.
Save me your 2nd change emails. I have nothing against legal, responsible gun ownership. But many people who shouldn’t have firearms—because, for example, they are felons, domestic abusers, have mental health issues, or are preparing to open fire on a large crowd—have them anyway. We make it easy.
Becton thinks we need to sit down and prioritize the gun issue, and I wholeheartedly agree. Yes, cops take guns away every day, and we have an Armed and Banned People system designed to help remove illegal guns from about 24,500 people who legally bought guns but are no longer allowed to keep them.
Bonta said Thursday his office is overseeing $10 million in grants to sheriffs to help confiscate these guns, but these efforts are like spitting on a wildfire.
We also have a problem with our criminal justice reforms. Just not the ones targeting guys like Sheriff Boudreaux.
Racist to reform, yet our system has locked up people of color at an alarming rate while criminalizing health issues like addiction and mental illness. The changes we have made to create equality, fairness and compassion are therefore vital to reinventing a paradigm that for too long has destroyed not only people but communities as well.
Where we have failed is in supporting and implementing these reforms. When someone is released from prison, deported from prison, or becomes a victim of a crime, that may not be the end of the story.
What we lack is the ability to create stability for them – addiction treatment, mental health support, housing, professional training, social workers. It’s the same protective measures we lack in other crises like homelessness, all made worse by the pandemic, which is crushing almost everyone under its stress and pain and depleting the resources we have.
“Too much, too fast, not enough support,” according to Yolo County Dist. atty Jeff Reisig describes what happened to California’s criminal justice reform efforts. He is also President of the California District Attorneys Assn. and a mediocre guy when it comes to justice.
“It doesn’t mean we have to send everyone back to prison, but it does mean we have to make the changes to get people into programs like Care Court,” he said, calling for Newsom’s plan for a civil court system to change to help those with severe mental illness.
But I’m starting to think we don’t want to change as much as we say we do.
Most Californians are liberal at a distance, but bring it too close and too it just doesn’t make sense here. There is perhaps no better example than San Francisco’s neighbors, who last year successfully blocked the conversion of a 131-room boutique hotel into permanent supportive housing for people who were previously homeless.
Or what happened a few years ago in Bakersfield, when the local hospital protested whether homeless people could stay in a hotel in an industrial area because it was too close to an employee parking lot.
This intolerance has created an impossible to untangle mess of crime, housing, mental health and addiction that endlessly swirls around us – all different aspects of poverty, race and injustice at heart. People of color are disproportionately among our homeless, incarcerated, mentally ill and addicted ranks, and the vast majority of murder victims are Black and Hispanic.
We must either accept that the solutions really do lie in our own backyards, or embrace the so-called pendulum swing back to solutions that sweep the impoverished behind bars where we need not see them. Guess how that plays out in conservative places like Kern, Merced, and Tulare, where poor people of color have long been viewed as suspect and where the poverty rate is nearly 20%, well above the national average of about 12%?
Thankfully, not everything is gloomy. The numbers released this week are out of date, according to Mike Romano, director of the Three Strikes and Justice Advocacy Projects at Stanford Law School. Newsom appointed Romano to chair California’s Criminal Code Review Committee in 2019.
Romano and his team are tracking available crime data in California in near real-time, so he’s already looking ahead to 2022. So far he has seen homicide rates either declining or flat in some of our largest cities.
Fresno, he said, has seen a whopping 29% drop so far this year. Oakland is down 6%. Los Angeles and San Francisco are about flat year over year. Long Beach and San Diego ticked. Other crimes, including robbery, burglary, shoplifting and arson, were flat or down statewide in 2021, he said.
Overall, violent crime in California is at its lowest level since the 1970s and has been for at least 10 years. California has the second-lowest homicide rate of any 10 largest states, after New York, less than half the rate of states like Illinois, Georgia, and Ohio.
We are significantly safer than most other major states, even after a decade of major changes to our prison system.
Criminal justice reform, then, can be the simplest focus of blame for why some violent crimes emerge.
But turns out guns do kill people, regardless of what the right likes to argue.
And so is NIMBYism, although it’s an awkward culprit to name.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-08-26/column-violent-crime-is-up-in-california-where-it-rose-the-most-may-surprise-you Column: Why is violent crime spiking in Trump’s California?