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Hours after the city recorded yet another murder, San Jose’s mayor and police chief this morning announced that the city and Santa Clara County would pool resources to increase the police presence on city streets, work with newly-freed convicts and expand efforts to discourage gang activity. “We are standing in solidarity against this violence,” said Mayor Chuck Reed, flanked by city, county and school district officials in the rotunda of San Jose City Hall.
The news conference came about 10 hours after the city’s 33rd homicide this year. At 10:50 p.m. Thursday, 18-year-old Armondo Miguel Heredia was killed on South King Road in what police said was likely a gang-related shooting. The shooting was San Jose’s eighth violent death in the past 11 days. The city had 39 homicides in all of 2011. “We are looking for every opportunity to maximize officers on the street,” police Chief Chris Moore said. “I am very confident we can bring this spike to an end.”
Thursday’s murder took place soon after a prayer vigil for homicide victims during which concerned citizens marched from a church to Story Road in eastern San Jose. Reed and Moore met earlier this morning with the Gang Prevention Task Force, which in July received $1 million in funds to suppress gang-related violence. Police said gang members were responsible for about 40 percent of this year’s murders. “It’s always hard to pull gang members off the streets,” Moore said.
San Jose police will allocate an additional 17 officers on the streets by taking $800,000 from its budget for overtime pay to deploy officers otherwise assigned to non-violent units such as K-9 and burglary. Funds from the San Jose police budget used to cover the overtime are the savings the city realized after laying off police officers over the past year, Moore said. San Jose police also expect to place 49 additional officers on street duty by June 2013, Moore said.
The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office and the county’s parole and probation departments also will pool resources in response to the increase in homicides, authorities said. The sheriff’s office will focus on making arrests from outstanding warrants, while parole officers will use proceeds from a $250,000 grant to curtail crimes committed by people released from jail. Moore said that the Police Department seeks to mobilize law enforcement “where we need it and when we need it” and “to put the intelligence we have on streets to put these people behind bars.”
He said, “We want to send a clear message to people in San Jose that if you’re in need, we can help.” He noted that San Jose has actually seen a decline in gang-suspected homicides this year compared to 2011. Of the 28 murders recorded at this date last year, half were gang-related, while 13, less than half of this year’s 33 murders, have been traced to gangs, Moore said. Other killings committed this year have been linked to mental illness, homelessness, domestic violence and young people returning to school and getting into disputes, police said. “I don’t think you can say any one cause for the spike,” Moore said. “We are having fewer gang-related homicides than we had a year before,” although he added that “we are seeing more guns, more shootings” this year.
City spokeswoman Michelle McGurk said that the homicide rate this year for San Jose, which has about 1 million residents, is actually lower compared to other Bay Area cities with smaller populations. San Francisco, which has about 750,000 residents, has had 45 homicides in 2012 while Oakland, with about a third of the population of San Jose, has had 75. In another attempt to curb gangs, youth intervention workers from the city’s Park and Recreation Department will be dispatched at night into
areas known for gang activity to talk, suggest alternatives to the gang lifestyle and reach out to minimize retaliations involving rival gangs, according to David Vossbrink, the city’s director of communications. Some of the recent gang violence in San Jose has resulted from rivalries between two Latino gangs, police said.
Moore acknowledged that recent layoffs of San Jose officers have had an impact and that the department has had to make do by paying overtime to the officers it has from the non-violent crime units to expand police presence in reaction to recent homicides. “We have always been understaffed, and now more than ever,” he said. “What we have seen is a spike in homicides,” Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said. “It’s too early to say it’s a trend. The message from the district attorney is that they will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.” Rosen said, “We will protect the public by sending violent criminals away for a very, very long time.”
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