The number of homicides in East Palo Alto doubled this past year, jumping from four homicides in 2010 to eight in 2011.
With a goal of zero homicides in 2012, the city will rely heavily upon its Operation Fourth Quarter, a collaborative program that educates the community with the expectation of lowering the rate of homicide.
The City of East Palo Alto Police Department reported a 9 percent decrease in violent crime and a 2 percent decrease in overall crime during 2011. According to Police Chief Ronald Davis, the doubling of homicides over the past year, while emotionally significant, is not statistically significant. Rather, it demonstrates the extreme fluctuation of homicide rates in the single digits.
“You do have to put it in context in a sense that, even though it was double last year, it was the same as the year before,” Davis said. “We’re seeing a long-term downward trend, clearly; but I think the fact that we have these increases and decreases, these fluctuations, really underscores how much work we have to get done.”
The chief referred to the five murders in June and July of 2011 as the reason this year’s homicide rate was unbalanced. Specifically, he believes that a violent crime spree of three individuals accounted for three of the five summer homicides, pointing to the need to curb gang violence in East Palo Alto. Contrary to this past year’s data, historical trends of homicide in East Palo Alto typically show an increase during the last three months of the year.
Operation Fourth Quarter was established in 2007 to counter the trend of East Palo Alto homicides in the fourth quarter of 2006, during which three murders occurred in two weeks. The program focuses on enforcement of laws and prevention of crimes.
“It makes the community aware that this is a historical time, that we do have violence, and it provides, what we think, is a comprehensive approach,” Davis said. “It’s not just enforcement. We try to schedule and engage in prevention programs, intervention programs and clearly, enforcement strategies.”
Involved in the collaborative, community efforts are local youth, fraternities and parents, among others. These groups are engaged in town hall meetings, roundtable discussions, youth summits and other educational events. Internally, Operation Fourth Quarter increases police enforcement with the addition of narcotics and gang investigations, compliance checks and tactical operations on a weekly basis.
“I think [the community is] doing a tremendous job fighting crime and violence. But, the fact that [it] can fluctuate so greatly suggests that many of the core issues that involve crime and violence remain,” Davis said. “We keep fighting the battle; we’re doing a great job, but we [have] got to get to those core issues, otherwise one argument, one issue leads to a spark and major problems for us.”
Despite the continued risk of violence, the East Palo Alto Police Department reported that the amount of gun violence did not increase proportionally to the number of homicides this past year. Davis said he views this trend as promising, noting that factors such as the caliber of weaponry and the proximity of the shooter were likely more responsible for the deaths than an overall increase in gun violence.
“I think [Operation Fourth Quarter has] made a tremendous difference. We haven’t seen those kinds of numbers since then,” Davis said, noting that even so, violence usually remains highest during the fourth quarter.
The city has seen a decline of homicides over the past decade. While the count was often in the double digits during the 1990s, reaching a record of 42 homicides in 1992, recent years have been relatively peaceful, ranging between four and 15 killings in the past six years.
“We’re small enough that four is outrageous,” Davis said. “There is no reason why we cannot have zero homicides in a year.”