Homicides in Santa Ana Tie Yearly Record : Crime: With three months left to go, murders already equal the 59 committed in 1991. Police don’t know why the rate is so high, but more than half the cases are gang-related.


Fueled by a 35% increase in gang-related killings, Santa Ana has already recorded 59 homicides this year, matching the city’s all-time record with more than three months of the year left.

Police said Wednesday they are hard-pressed to explain why this year’s homicides, which equal the year-end total for 1991 when the previous record was set, have increased so rapidly.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Sept. 22, 1993 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday September 22, 1993 Orange County Edition Metro Part B Page 2 Column 4 Metro Desk 2 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Santa Ana homicides--Articles Sept. 16 and 21 on the rising rate of homicides in Santa Ana used inaccurate statistics supplied by police. A spokesman said that as of Tuesday there had been 58 willful homicides, 32 of them gang-related. There were a record 59 homicides in 1991.

“I don’t have any idea why, and I don’t think there is anybody (in law enforcement) that can tell you why we have such a high homicide rate this year,” said Santa Ana Police Sgt. Art Echternacht. “Hopefully it will curve off, but it does not look like it. . . . There is little prevention you can do with homicides.”


Police said more than half of the city’s murders thus far--30--involved gang members as victims, suspects or both. Last year, 22 of a total 58 homicides were gang-related and Echternacht said he could offer no explanation for the sharp increase in fatal gang violence.

The city’s latest homicide victim was reported Monday after a gang-related shooting in the 2400 block of Downie Place, police said. Christian Meza Madera, 19, of Santa Ana died of a gunshot wound to the abdomen after an assailant in a car opened fire on a group of young men he was standing with, police said. The gunman remains at large.

Like Madera, most of the city’s homicide victims are men, generally between their late teens and early 30s, police and criminologists said. Police said they do not keep a tally of murder victims by ethnic group, but said they would not be surprised to find that most of those killed are Latino because they compose about 65% of the city’s total population of about 300,000, according to 1990 census figures.

In Santa Ana, as in the nation in general, “homicides basically are something that occur among young men,” said Dick McCleary, a professor of social ecology at UC Irvine. “For the general population, it is rare,” he said.

Mayor Daniel H. Young said he feels safe in Santa Ana, and believes most citizens agree.

“These random shootings make everybody nervous--when they drive by and take innocent people. But most of those who commit drive-by shootings know who they are shooting at,” Young said. “If you’re not involved in a gang, your risk of getting shot is much less.”

Still, the innocent are slain. A 2-year-old boy died in February after he was shot in the head while resting in his father’s arms, police said. In May, a 32-year-old woman who worked at a fast-food restaurant to help support relatives in Mexico died after a suspected gang member shot her while aiming at somebody else, police said.


“As a Latino living in Santa Ana, I hate to see this thing because we are fighting hard to educate Latinos about helping each other,” said Officer Jose Vargas, a liaison between the Police Department and the city’s Latino community.

“Sometimes, I stop and think, ‘Gosh darn it, what are we doing?’ We are talking about Latinos against Latinos” in many of the homicide cases, Vargas said.

Jim Walker of Santa Ana’s Human Relations Commission said: “Sometimes you throw up your hands and admit you don’t have the answers--and that’s a start. We have been demanding . . . for the police to do all the work. But we can’t ask them to do all the work. The community needs to help them.”

The Human Relations Commission, which Walker chairs, was charged more than a year ago with helping youths and providing suggestions for alternatives to gang involvement. Walker said the group has been evaluating youth programs and discussing the needs of local youths, as well as presenting program options to the City Council.

“I don’t think the gang members are keeping score out there. . . . It’s a random fact that the number is what it is right now,” Young said. “I think prevention does work” to reduce crime and killings, Young said. Prevention, he said, means having youth recreational activities.

“But it’s just not enough. These kids need jobs, but with the economy the way it is, it makes it difficult,” Young said.


City Councilman Ted R. Moreno said he will propose creating enclosed recreation sites like the one at the Jerome Center at West McFadden Avenue and Diamond Street in each of the six council wards.

“A lot of parents worry about drive-bys, but with an indoor gym, the kids are inside. If you give the kids something to do, hopefully in the future it would prevent these types of homicides,” Moreno said.

But Moreno said that citizens also have to take responsibility for their own safety. He said he usually isn’t scared of being in Santa Ana. “I’m used to this city--I know where to be and where not to be at night. . . . People should know how to be careful,” he said.

Despite the jump in gang-related killings, a year-old truce remains in effect between some of the city’s gang members, contends John Raya, a former trustee of the Rancho Santiago Community College board and organizer of a youth boxing club forming in Santa Ana.

“I hope people don’t sour on the idea of the gang truce, because for those who are involved in it, it is working. For some, it’s probably what has kept them alive,” said Raya, who attended several meetings of the United Gangs Council as well as a peace march the group staged earlier this year.

Homicide investigators have solved or cleared 30% of the city’s murder cases so far this year, a percentage that equals last year’s, police said. That percentage is half the national average, but investigators contend that number is misleading. Santa Ana investigators often know the identity of murder suspects, but they cannot arrest them before they escape to Mexico or are no longer in the United States, police said.


The record-setting pace for murders in the county’s largest city coincides with an overall decrease in crimes reported to police, statistics show. The total number of major crimes reported in Santa Ana--murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assaults, burglary and motor vehicle theft--fell about 6% between 1991 and 1992, bucking a five-year trend of steady increases, according to the state Department of Justice.

Walker of the Human Relations Commission stressed the importance of neighborhood unity in battling crime, saying, “Little things add up in a big way when it shows that a neighborhood cares. It means coming out on a doorstep when people hear an argument that could escalate into violence.”

“I’m shocked every time I read about a shooting,” he said, “but what I would hope to see is that we would have a resolve in the community--the residents themselves--to do something about it.”

More Murders The 59 homicides recorded in Santa Ana so far this year equal those in the previous worst year, 1991. The trend in the city’s murders and the murder rate.Source: California Department of Finance, California Department of Justice