Homicides spike in San Jose, Oakland

Yahoo! Local
The San Francisco Local

Pueng Vongs, Y! SF editor

Frequently considered one of America's safest big cities, San Jose has seen a recent spike in homicides.

So far in 2011 there have been 28 murders in the city -- more than the 20 that occurred in all of 2010. At this rate, San Jose is on pace for more than 50 killings this year -- something that has not happened in two decades, according to an Associated Press report.

Is this statistic so shocking, given that the city is the Bay Area's most populous, with 1 million residents, as well as its fastest growing? San Francisco, which has fewer people (800,000), had tallied 29 homicides as of last weekend.

The jump may have to do with an increase in gang activity Sgt. Jason Dwyer with the San Jose Police Department told the AP. Almost half the murders this year were gang related. As a result, the department has relaunched a special unit to focus on the city's 100 gangs. There have been no homicides in the city in more than a month.

Dwyer says he hopes the layoff of almost 70 officers in June won't negatively affect the crime rate.

"It's a dangerous job with no guarantees that we will make it home to our families," Dwyer says in the report. "We can't have officers distracted by lack of manpower and because our friends are no longer working. That's where our professionalism shines through."

Additionally, the police department has enlisted the help of federal immigration agents to crack down on crime -- a move seen as highly controversial. Critics say this may keep undocumented immigrants from reporting crimes, out of the fear of deportation.

"They wonder, 'Am I going to have a job? A place to live? Am I going to be safe,'" Raj Jayadev, director of Silicon Valley DeBug, a local youth organization, and a member of the police department's Community Advisory Board, says in the report. "They're scared."

Meanwhile, Oakland's homicide rate is on the rise again after four  years of decline. Three people were killed in the city over the weekend bringing the tally at 70 this year, according to KTVU. There were 54 killings last year at this time.

Pastor Steven Sumner told KTVU the tough economic climate is partly to blame: "I believe more young people are out of work; there is a survival mode." Sumner is on a committee of faith-based leaders who meet monthly with police to find solutions to the violence.

Last month, the Oakland Police Department introduced an anonymous email tip line for people to report information about homicides, reports the Oakland Tribune. A high number of homicides remain unsolved.

The email tip line is Oaklandhomicide@oaklandnet.com. People can also call 510-238-3821.