With three weeks left in 2012, Stockton has already reached an all-time high for homicides -- 68 so far, 10 more than the previous record last year.
The sad saga of bloody, bankrupt Stockton should serve as a cautionary tale for other financially beleaguered cities in California. Good fiscal management isn't some esoteric goal. It is essential to the health and safety of real people.
While Stockton has always had a reputation for more violence than Modesto or Merced, many believe there's a strong connection between Stockton's current rise in murders and its collapsing finances.
Squeezed by its own profligate spending and the housing crash, San Joaquin County's largest city was forced to lay off almost a quarter of its police force and cut pay and benefits for those who remained.
Scores of veteran officers retired or took jobs in other cities. A force of 441, already too small for a city of close to 300,000, dwindled to just 329.
As the police ranks thinned, Stockton's homicide total ticked upwards, from 24 in 2008 to 33 in 2009 to 49 in 2010. If this year's trend holds through this month, the number of homicides would triple in just four years.
Police attribute half the homicides to gangs, specifically to open warfare between rival factions of the Norteño street gang. The city has asked and received help from state and federal agencies.
Operation Family Feud, a combined federal, state and local law enforcement task force launched to curb the gang violence, has arrested 39 people and confiscated 25 guns, plus large quantities of methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana.
At the request of Stockton's police chief, the California Highway Patrol intensified its presence in high-crime areas. That effort began Nov. 1 and will run for 90 days. Next month, the state Justice Department's Bureau of Firearms plans to launch sweeps to seize weapons from anyone prohibited from having them, including convicted felons, those under restraining orders, or former mental health patients with histories of violence.
Finally, Stockton has mobilized its own citizens. More than 100 neighborhood watch groups have been formed. Residents who live near parks go out on nightly walks. Church members patrol neighborhoods near their houses of worship.
Yet as police and residents work to curb the violence, the city's finances remain in shambles. Stockton has filed for bankruptcy, but squabbling between the city and bond holders, employee unions and others has kept a formal court declaration of bankruptcy on hold and delayed indefinitely the city's efforts to rebuild its fiscal house.
To make things worse, a City Council that did the hard work of reducing spending, including cutting the workforce by 25 percent and trimming pay by 29 percent, was booted from office in November. Political and financial chaos at City Hall will make stemming the carnage on city streets that much more difficult.