Fewer homicides seen in city, state and nation

Mingxi Zheng/Staff

By this time last year, six homicides had been committed in Berkeley. So far this year, that number is one.

That number has decreased in the past four years and represents an extreme example of similar homicide trends across the state and country, where homicides have also decreased.

“The City of Berkeley Police Department would like to take all the credit for the drop in the homicide rate … although that would not be fair or accurate,” said Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, spokesperson for the department, in an email. “There are so many forces and elements that contribute to increases and reductions in crime rates in all categories. Many are just not known.”

In both 2009 and 2010, there were six homicides in the city according to the police department — a decrease from the nine recorded murders committed in the city in 2008.

This year’s only homicide to date resulted from a shooting at a South Berkeley home in March.

Despite the steady decrease in the number of homicides, Kusmiss stressed the department’s ongoing efforts to reduce crime.

“BPD feels that one homicide is too many, as it is the type of crime that has a tremendous psychological and emotional impact not just on the family, friends and acquaintances of the victim, but the community as a whole,” Kusmiss said in the email. “Members of BPD have remarked at the fact that the community has had one homicide in 2011 many times.”

The city’s decline in homicide rates is not out of line with those reported at both the state and national levels.
There were 1,811 homicides in California in 2010, according to the FBI Unified Crime Reports. In 2009, California saw 1,972 homicides, and 2,142 homicides in 2008, according to the report.

The FBI reports that there were a total of 12,996 homicides in the United States in 2010 — a decrease from 13,636 homicides in 2009 and 14,180 homicides in 2008.

Jay Corzine, a homicide expert with the American Society of Criminology and a professor of sociology at the University of Central Florida, attributed the drop in homicide rates to multiple factors, including a decrease in the size of illegal drug markets and better response times for emergency medical service units.

“It is clear that homicide rates have been declining on the national level for the past 15-20 years,” Corzine said in an email. “Two factors that are often cited as reasons for homicide increases and decreases are the number of guns in civilian hands and economic conditions. Neither seems to be very important in explaining the current homicide drop.”

Corzine also said homicide rates often decrease when police adopt strategies that prove effective in reducing violent crime, including monitoring released felons with a history of violent crime and employing additional patrols at violent crime “hot spots.”

Kusmiss said in the email that the Berkeley Police Department has worked to reduce crime in recent years by implementing weekly Crime Analysis and Reduction Strategy Meetings to assess crime trends and focus on habitual or wanted offenders. The department also conducts weekly warrants, surveillances, probation and parole searches, according to Kusmiss.

The agency has a goal to reduce Part One Crime — which includes homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, auto theft and arson — by 10 percent, Kusmiss  said in the email.

“The members of the BPD have been fighting crime with tenacity, focus, intelligence, consistent collaboration with other agencies and the community, compliance checks of probationers and parolees and all of this work cannot be dismissed,” she said in the email.  “As we have over the many years, members of BPD will strive to maintain excellence and reduce crime.”