ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Positive Change in a Fearsome Statistic
One of the most welcome developments in Orange County in 1994 was the drop in the number of homicides from the previous year’s total. Although some experts argue that the decrease simply reflects a return to the normal rate from the record high of 1993, surely some credit belongs to relatively new anti-gang programs in several cities.
Westminster began the Tri-Agency Resources Gang Enforcement Team, or TARGET, project several years ago. After it showed good results, county officials wisely emulated the program, putting TARGET teams of police, prosecutors and Probation Department workers in Santa Ana, Garden Grove, Orange, Costa Mesa, Anaheim and South County.
The countywide number of gang killings has not been totaled yet, but the numbers declined in the two largest cities, Santa Ana and Anaheim.
In Santa Ana, police said slayings classified as gang-related dropped from 48 in 1993 to 40 last year. In Anaheim, gang killings dropped from 16 to nine.
One prosecutor sounded the proper mix of optimism and caution when he said he wanted to think law enforcement and social programs against gangs contributed to the drop but that he certainly would not give them all the credit.
For the first years of the 1990s, the county homicide total was around 178 a year, but it zoomed to 219 in 1993. Last year it dropped to 179.
Last year’s lower total was heartening because during the first several months of 1994 it looked as if the county was on the way to still another record. The misleading figures of early 1994 point up the need to avoid panicky reactions and attempts to formulate policies on the basis of short-term numbers.
The 1993 record, which included a number of vicious gang killings and the murder of innocent bystanders in gang drive-by attacks, made fear of crime the No. 1 concern of county residents, according to pollsters. The number of murders and other violent crimes, such as rape and robbery, and the attention they received, outweighed the fact that property crimes dropped sharply in the county for much of last year.
Police recognize that the reduction in the county homicide rate does not mean they can relax anti-gang efforts or reduce vigilance. However, the improvement should allow residents to feel at least a little less endangered.