© 2024 KVPR | Valley Public Radio - White Ash Broadcasting, Inc. :: 89.3 Fresno / 89.1 Bakersfield
89.3 Fresno | 89.1 Bakersfield
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Counties in the San Joaquin Valley report state's highest murder rates

Community members hold candles at the vigil.
Esther Quintanilla
A vigil at the Bob Hart Square in downtown Merced was organized by various community leaders and the Merced County Sheriff's Department. Hundreds of local community members gathered to offer comfort and condolences to the extended family of Aroohi Derhi, Jasleen Kaur, Jasdeep Singh, Amandeep Singh. They were reported missing and later found dead in an orchard in Dos Palos in Merced County on Oct. 5, 2022.

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — California’s murder rate declined by 5% in 2022, according to a recent Department of Justice report. But the data tells a different story across much of the San Joaquin Valley, where violent crime remains well above average.

Merced County reported the state’s highest murder rate with about 12 killings per 100,000 residents – more than double the state average.

The figure includes four members of a Sikh family who were kidnapped from their trucking business and murdered last October. A former employee was charged with the killings and is awaiting trial.

Three other Valley counties – Kern, Tulare and Kings – also appear in the state’s top five for murder rates.

Violent crime in the Valley became a political lightning rod last year when Governor Newsom declared Kern County the state’s “murder capital.”

Kern County topped the list for two consecutive years, reporting about one murder for every 7,200 people in 2021.

The moniker infuriated local leaders, who have blamed the spike on sentencing reforms and other challenges.

“We have factors working against us,” District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer told KBAK last month. “We are a relatively poor county, and we also are very large geographically, so it's very difficult to police Kern County."

New research reveals approximately two-thirds of gun related homicides in California have happened outside urban settings in the past nine years.

The research was conducted by the organization Hope and Health Fund and RomoGIS Enterprise with funding from Kaiser Permanente. The groups developed a mapping tool to showwhere gun homicides are the highest.

Researchers say the findings showed a rising need to address gun homicides in rural, semi rural and suburban areas. They also highlighted a need to address different types of gun homicides, such as those between intimate partners.

Efforts by counties, cities to address crime

A 1% sales tax measure in unincorporated Kern Countybarely passed last November. Officials hope to use some of the $60 million in annual revenue to fill vacant public safety positions.

Two Valley cities – McFarland and Wasco – also received $5 million each in the state budget this year to help build new police stations.

McFarland city leaders had controversially sought to convert a public library into a police building as a cost-saving measure.

Several other Valley cities, including Fresno, significantly boosted police department budgets this year, despite some advocates calling for greater investment in social services.

Fresno city leaders touted a decrease in crime when announcing the $262 million investment, with the department expected to add more than a hundred new officers.

“We want to continue the downward trend,” Chief Paco Balderrama said at the time.

Statewide, state data shows robberies increased by 10% and property crimes by 6% over the past year.

Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement accompanying the annual report that “While crime rates remain significantly below their historical highs, property and violent crimes continue to have devastating consequences for communities across the state."

Joshua Yeager is a Report For America corps reporter covering Kern County for KVPR.