Violent crime falls by double-digits in Calif. city due to higher recruitment numbers, anti-violence partnerships
Homicides dropped by 20%, while the number of shootings decreased from 672 in 2021 to around 440 this year
By Brianna Vaccari
The Fresno Bee
FRESNO, Calif. — Violent crime, including gun violence, fell by a double-digit rate in Fresno in 2022, according to Fresno Police Department statistics, and Chief Paco Balderrama is on track to fully staff the department by the end of next year.
Homicides dropped by about 20% this year.
Those trends are positive outliers compared to other cities and police departments across the country, Balderrama said.
“The two major issues in policing in America that I’ve heard this from all the other major cities’ chiefs is violent crime and recruiting,” he said. “The two major things that are the most difficult tasks that we’re dealing with are those two things, and those are areas where we’re having our success. So I’m very proud of that.”
Gun violence in Fresno spiked in 2020 amid the Coronavirus pandemic. Balderrama joined the police department in 2021, making it his mission to reduce violent crime. At the same time, the department was dealing with some of the lowest staffing levels in 10 years, facing recruitment challenges and competitive pay in other agencies.
Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer is pleased with the direction of the department he led for nearly two decades, and he said he expects the positive trends to continue.
“I am very pleased with Chief Balderrama’s leadership, and the progress being made by the police department in recruiting and reducing violent crime,” Dyer said in a statement. “I am absolutely confident that the department will be at full staffing this coming year— which will help them build on these successes.”
Balderrama said the positive trends send the following message to the community: “You’re getting your money’s worth.”
“This community, our city council, our mayor, our city manager, voted for, basically, the best benefits package for police officers in the entire Central Valley,” Balderrama said. “When you have attractive salaries, you can attract more people and higher-quality people. I think the community is getting their money’s worth. They’re seeing a reduction of violent crime because they’ve invested in public safety.”
By the numbers
The number of murders, reported gunshot victims and shootings all decreased this year, department statistics show. Typically, fatal shootings make up 90% of the department’s murders, the chief said.
The last two years, Fresno police investigated 74 murders each year. So far this year, Fresno police have investigated 59 murders.
The number of reported gunshot victims and shootings continued to trend downward as well. This year, Fresno police received reports of 218 victims, 70 fewer than the year before. The number of shootings was way down, from 672 in 2021 to around 440 this year, not including the time left until the New Year.
Balderrama attributed the decrease in gun violence to more teamwork with local, state and federal partners as well as within the department. Police conducted more collaborative operations with law enforcement partners this year, and communication within the department improved, he said. The department relied heavily on its criminal intelligence unit and the Multi-Agency Gang Enforcement Consortium team.
Balderrama also suspects the department’s efforts to reduce the number of illegal guns on the street is, in turn, helping with the reduction of gun violence. In the last three years, the department seized nearly 5,260 firearms.
The chief’s goal is to bring Fresno’s annual homicide rate down into the 40s or 30s, he said.
“Fresno is the fifth-largest committee city in California. So reducing homicides down to zero is not very realistic,” Balderrama said. “So we definitely want to be under other large communities, in term of per capita, and that’s going to be the long-term goal.”
Additionally, the department’s clearance rate for homicides is up. So far this year, the district attorney has handed down murder charges in 83% of the homicide cases received from Fresno Police Department, Balderrama said. That’s up from 39% in 2020, he said.
The price to increase that clearance rate? About half a million dollars in overtime for the department’s homicide unit, the chief said. Overtime costs likely will dip once the department is staffed up, Balderrama said. Still, the better numbers made the investment worthwhile, he said.
After the 2020 spike in gun violence, community members, particularly young people, told city leaders during a community meeting and discussion to address socioeconomic needs to help curb gun violence and gang activity. Teen shooting victims told leaders they wanted job opportunities and the ability to see new things outside of their community. They said young people involved in gun violence deserve resources in addition to consequences.
One of the organizations involved was Advance Peace, which works with people most likely to commit gun crimes and provides them resources and mentorship. Advance Peace helped facilitate the conversation between city officials and young people — some of whom were active in gangs or involved in gun crimes.
This year, after many developments, the city of Fresno and Advance Peace entered into a contract so that Advance Peace can continue working with young people.
Aaron Foster, the program manager for Advance Peace, said the program shows gang members that there’s alternatives to gun violence.
In the last year, he’s seen retaliatory gun violence decrease. In past years, Fresno often saw a string of connected shootings, Foster said. Now, many shootings are isolated incidents, he said.
Foster hopes the momentum will continue as Advance Peace continues its work as well and that more programs like it are funded.
“Together we can end this pain, but it takes us, the community, to heal our community,” he said. “So we have to work relentlessly.”
Upon revealing his first proposed budget in May 2021, Dyer, previously the police chief, tasked then new chief with hiring 120 new police officers in 15 months to battle low staffing.
Since then, Balderrama has hired 117 new officers, and another 130 are in the pipeline to join the department by the end of the next year. That means by the end of 2023, the police department will be 100% staffed, Balderrama said.
With the addition of more bicycle patrol officers thanks to new grant funding, the department likely will reach 900 sworn officers for the first time in history, the chief said.
Plus, the new officers better reflect the community they serve, Balderrama said.
A majority of the new officers are Hispanic; 20 are women; 10 are Black; eight are southeast Asian; and four are Asian American Pacific Islander.
The Fresno City Council earlier this year approved a new contract with the Fresno Police Officers Association that gave officers big raises. Veteran officers saw the biggest boost in pay.
Nevertheless, the police department used a multi-prong marketing strategy to recruit people, including renting billboards, radio ads, YouTube videos and other social media posts. The department even created a TikTok account, which the chief was reluctant to agree to, he said.
Balderrama is trying to send a message that Fresno Police Department is a modern department that will provide recruits with a variety of opportunities and upward mobility.
“These are the methods that our young people are using to communicate, and that’s how we can reach out to them. So we have to change our own traditions and our own tactics in order to find quality candidates. I feel that it’s worked,” Balderrama said.
“Frankly, I think I think the whole swagger of the Fresno Police Department has changed a little bit,” he said. “I mean, we have a new younger chief, we’re trying new things. We’re more into marketing. We really beefed up the benefits package. We go out and we reach out to these cadets.”
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