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San Bernardino's rising homicide rate troubles cops, residents

San Bernardino's homicide rate is climbing, and so is the concern
Five slayings in nine days. The homicide rate climbs in San Bernardino
Gang members, parolees seen as part of the reason for rising homicides in city of San Bernardino

Earlier this month, Shelton Nicholas, 23, became San Bernardino’s 26th homicide victim of the year. His July 5 shooting at an abandoned home was the first in a bloody run of killings -- five dead in the city in just nine days.

A father of five shot to death on his doorstep as his wife tried to hold him up, a 19-year-old girl fatally shot at a party, a man gunned down outside a vape shop, and the list goes on.

For residents of the inland city of 213,000, the violence in their streets and the rising death count has them on edge.

“It’s the summertime,” said resident David Garcia, 35. “People get hot, attitudes get hot and (people) can get set off by just looking at them.”

The city now has logged 31 homicides, four ahead of last year at this time and already more than the total in 2011.

The upward tick is a reminder to some of the grim body counts in the 1990s when the city posted 80 and sometimes 90 homicides a year when it was known as a “murder capital,” said Lt. Richard Lawhead, spokesman for the city’s Police Department.

A combination of circumstances in recent years has led to the rising homicide rate, Lawhead said.

San Bernardino has one of the largest parolee populations in the state, and in recent years, the city has seen an influx of gang members with ties to Los Angeles gangs, he said.

At the same time, the police force has been depleted since the city filed for bankruptcy in 2012. In 2009, the force stood at 350. Now there are 232 officers.

“We’ve got everything working against us,” Lawhead said.

Almost 90% of the homicides in San Bernardino are the result of gang activity or the narcotics trade, Lawhead said. At least two of the homicides this month were gang-related.

This week, San Bernardino Mayor R. Carey Davis laid out an aggressive plan to combat gangs by going after illegal marijuana dispensaries and unregulated housing complexes, which he said ferment gang activity.

His plan calls for the enforcement of an already existing ordinance that allows landlords to evict gang members and recommends updating the ordinance to permit the eviction of people associated with gang members.

But Davis, a San Bernardino native, cautioned against panic, saying he’s seen the numbers fluctuate in the past, surging some years and dropping in others.

“But it doesn’t mean we’re not addressing it,” Davis said, adding that the Police Department is looking for new ways to more effectively patrol the city with its limited resources.

“I think things are going to get better, but just like our city took decades to get into the condition it’s in today, it’s not an overnight thing," said Garcia, a lifelong San Bernardino resident.

“There’s parts of the city that are safer than others,” he said, watching his 5-year-old daughter play in Meadowbrook Park near downtown. “This area should be safe, but stuff still happens.”

A few blocks up the street, Alexis Gastelum walked around Seccombe Lake Park with his 4-year-old brother. He moved to San Bernardino from Fontana a few months ago and said he often hears gunshots and sirens at night and sees memorials to the dead on the streets.

“It's still safe enough to go out to the park,” said Gastelum, 18. “I wouldn’t go out at night, though, where in Fontana I’d go out at night and wouldn’t feel threatened.”

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