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City Avoids Record Year for Homicides : Crime: 1988 continues to hold the title, followed closely by the 159 killed this past year. Guns, gangs and drugs are again cited by police.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Although 1990 did not quite eclipse 1988 as the city’s deadliest year, it came close, and law enforcement officials offered a set of explanations similar to previous years: easier availability of guns, more gangs and more drugs.

Through Dec. 31, 159 people had been killed, 4 short of the 1988 record of 163. In 1990, the city had 137 criminal homicides, down from the record of 144 two years ago.

Police describe criminal homicides as intentional killings. Other homicides are the result of accidents or slayings by police that the district attorney’s office has ruled justified.

Homicide investigators said earlier in 1990 that San Diego was on a pace to break its 1988 record, but the killings slowed in November and December.

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“We’re pleased to say we are not going to set another record,” said Assistant Police Chief Norm Stamper. “It’s nothing to rejoice over, but it’s better than 1988.”

According to statistics provided by police, the 137 criminal homicides broke down this way: 13 were gang-related, 19 were narcotics-related, 13 were the result of domestic disputes and 87 fit into a broad range of categories that included drive-by shootings, robberies and burglaries.

Stamper said San Diego is plagued by all of the big-city problems that have helped set murder records nationwide. It is estimated that 23,200 people in the United States became homicide victims in 1990, a figure that would break the country’s record of 21,040 set in 1980.

“People probably get tired of the same explanation, but it’s the ready availability of guns in the hands of gangs or drugbangers,” Stamper said. “The fact of the matter is, 23,200 people will be homicide victims (in 1990), and a dozen or so cities are breaking records. New York and Washington already have set records. San Diego and Los Angeles are close to breaking records. This is just a more violent society.”

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Indeed, New York had more than 2,000 murders in 1990. Chicago broke its 1989 figure of 742 murders by more than 40. By the end of November, the District of Columbia had 436, 2 more than all of 1989 and a record for the district. Miami and New Orleans surpassed in 1990 the number of murders committed in those cities in 1989.

Police Chief Bob Burgreen said people must stop thinking of San Diego as a small town and accept it as one beset by a long list of problems.

In a recent press conference in which he sought to explain a rise in shootings by his own officers, Burgreen said San Diego’s environment has changed to include jail crowding that pushes more people out on the street, as well as cuts in mental health funding that keep many people from being kept in institutions.

“We have a jail system in complete meltdown . . . where people, who in any other city would be in jail and locked up, are walking the streets,” he said. “What’s changed is that Florida is no longer the international port of entry for drugs coming from Colombia. San Diego is the main corridor. That’s changed.”

When 1988 emerged as San Diego’s bloodiest year, law enforcement officials blamed much of the problem on illegal gang activity. Out of 144 murders that year, nearly a third were gang-related, and 16% were drug-related.

But in 1990, less than 10% of the murders had to do with gangs and 14% had to do with drugs.

Police have not had time to figure out what to make of the statistics of 1990.

“We’ll just have to go back and analyze what all this means,” said homicide Lt. Dan Berglund. “Right now, we just don’t know.”

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Times staff writer Michael Granberry contributed to this story.


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