By Kerri Ginis
Published October 29, 2001
Fresno’s crime rate declined last year, but the city remains one of the nation’s 50 most crime-ridden metropolitan areas, according to recently released figures in the FBI’s 2000 Uniform Crime Report.
Fresno, along with the Stockton-Lodi area, Modesto and Sacramento, had the highest crime indexes among California cities in 1995. All of them have fallen significantly since then, with Fresno dropping from No. 10 to No. 44.
Fresno still ranked among the nation’s top five cities for motor vehicle theft last year, along with Miami, Phoenix-Mesa, New Orleans and Detroit. It was the only California city to rank in the top five of any of the major crime categories.
Fresno police would not comment about the statistics Sunday.
Roselyn Clark, president of the Fresno Police and Neighborhood Watch Association, said she has noticed a decrease in crime compared to the 1990s.
She said the number of homicides in the city has dropped significantly in recent years.
Twenty-four homicides were reported in Fresno in 2000, compared with 27 in 1999. The city had a high of 98 homicides in 1993.
Despite those decreases, Clark said crime seems to be on the rise again. So far this year, 32 homicides have been reported.
“We still have a long way to go,” she said. “Part of it is people have become complacent. Crime is down, and people haven’t been doing as much with their neighborhood watches as they used to.”
Crime rates in cities throughout California have plummeted more than in other parts of the country, according to the FBI’s latest per capita figures, knocking many of the state’s metropolitan areas down dramatically in the agency’s national crime rankings.
The state’s best-known cities, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego, all saw significant drops in their combined violent-and property-crime index, as did inland areas.
While crime overall nationwide has fallen, the decreases in California were greater than those in much of the country.
The news doesn’t surprise Danielle Prater, a Stockton mother of two who used to see drug dealers and prostitutes regularly roaming the streets in her city. Now, children in her neighborhood leave their bikes unattended outside without a second thought, and she is comforted by the frequent sight of police officers.
“The whole town has gotten a whole lot better,” the prep cook said during a shift at Chuck’s Hamburgers, a cozy family-run restaurant that has packed in breakfast and lunch crowds for 41 years.
“Five years ago, I was worried,” said Prater, 35. “Now, I don’t even lock my doors or roll my windows up.”
The Los Angeles-Long Beach area dropped out of the top 100 and was ranked just two notches above San Francisco in 2000 at No. 148. San Diego’s crime index declined markedly, too, sending it down to the nation’s 193rd slot.
Stockton is one of several cities attracting hordes of new residents as housing markets in the crowded San Francisco and San Jose metro areas become too pricey for many workers.
Nathan Barankin, spokesman for Attorney General Bill Lockyer, suggested one reason for the dramatic drops in the growing Central Valley areas is that many of the new residents are “generally law-abiding,” although he cautioned that it’s impossible to know definitively why the rates have changed.
“Anyone who tells you that they know why crime rates go up and down is lying,” he said.
Malcolm Klein, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Southern California, agreed.
“We don’t know to what extent it’s police activity, to what extent it’s the booming economy … to what extent it’s the act of God,” he said of the declines.
Several police officers across the state speculated that beefed-up community policing programs, increases in the size of police forces and low unemployment rates contributed to the declines, along with things including parole intervention programs and outreach to schoolchildren.
Fresno has about 1,200 neighborhood watch programs. If more neighborhoods participated in the programs, the number of vehicle thefts and burglaries would likely decline, Clark said.
“It helps tremendously to have a neighborhood watch program in your area,” she said. “You’ll find that the neighborhoods that band together do have less crime.”
Stockton police officer Doug Anderson agrees.
“We can’t take all the credit for it,” said Anderson of police. “It’s also the prosecutors, the schools and many other factors.”
Anderson noted that the actual number of crimes — not just the per-capita rate — in his city has declined dramatically in the past five years, contradicting any suggestion that its criminal element has been diluted by the influx of new residents.
Sacramento police Sgt. Daniel Hahn credited the community with helping keep crime rates down by communicating with police to assist in apprehension of suspects.
“No police department is going to do it by themselves,” he said.