Monday, January 5, 2009

Scoop: A City Without A Murder

A Joint Police, District Attorney and Court Effort
The year 2008 would just as soon be forgotten in many parts of the country but not for National City. This municipality of 60,000 mostly Mexican-American population sandwiched between urban San Diego and the more affluent Chula Vista recorded no homicides the entire year.

It was the first time since 1963 National City went a calendar year without a homicide. Four years ago there were nine. All were gang-related violence.

Assistant Police Chief Manuel Rodriguez said it was a result of a court-ordered gang suppression unit and “a little bit of luck.” Cooperation between police, the District Attorney's office and judges designated gang-free zones within the city.

The crackdown arrested known gang members congregating in twos or more. Second offenses for other such things as wearing gang colors or carrying weapons resulted an automatic 180 days in jail.

"It didn't take long for the National City gangs to move elsewhere if they were to continue their criminal behavior," said a former officer who headed the first suppression unit.

Violent crime remains a serious problem in National City, but it has dropped 18 percent since 2004. The category covers aggravated assault, robbery, rape and homicide.

“If you actually walk our streets, day or night, you can see the difference and feel the improved safety and security,” Police Chief Adolfo Gonzales said. “You'll see women and seniors often exercising in the parks, and children using our parks and libraries.”

Despite the decrease, National City still leads the county with 6.1 violent crimes per 1,000 population, compared with the region's average rate of 3.9, according to a county government report.

Success of the gang suppression unit was not lost on voters who approved a 1 percent sales tax increase in 2006. With money from the tax increase, the council approved the hiring of 18 police officers to boost the department's staff to 92 sworn officers.

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