MERCED COUNTY — Last year was the bloodiest in Merced County in more than two decades, with 29 homicides reported in 2013, beating the previous record set in 2010 by one homicide.
Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II called the record-high homicide rate shocking and unacceptable.
We have to redouble our law-enforcement efforts to focus on gang-related violence, Morse said. In San Mateo County (in 2012), they reported 15 or 16 murders for the whole year, and that county is three times our size.
The number indicates 11.05 homicides per 100,000 people in Merced County, including the six incorporated cities. Merced County has a population of about 262,305, according to 2012 U.S. Census Bureau numbers.
The previous year, there were 8.5 homicides per 100,000 people in Merced County, according to Sun-Star archives.
It is the highest total since before at least 1990. The lowest total of homicides during that same time came in 2001, when just five homicides were reported in all of Merced County, according to county statistics.
A total of 23 people were victims of homicide in 2012 and 14 in 2011, according to Merced Sun-Star archives.
Of the 29 homicides in 2013, prosecutors filed murder charges in 15 cases, the District Attorneys Office reported.
The remaining 14 remain unsolved and no arrests have been made, authorities said.
A total of 19 of the 2013 homicides occurred within the jurisdiction of the Merced County Sheriffs Department, officials confirmed.
It was not clear how many of those cases resulted in arrests. Sheriffs spokesman Deputy Delray Shelton said the departments final report would be available sometime next week.
Growing culture of violence
Sheriff Tom Cavallero, who assumed command of the department earlier this week after Mark Pazin accepted a position with the California governors office, said there seems to be an increasing and alarming cultural desensitization towards violent behavior.
Lifestyles associated with gang activity and illegal drug cultivation, manufacturing and/or trafficking are inherently dangerous, Cavallero said in an email to the Sun-Star.
Cavallero also noted an increasing reluctance from witnesses to cooperate with investigators, as well as several consecutive years of budget cuts to the Sheriffs Department as contributing factors. Since 2009, the department has lost a total of eight deputy-sheriff positions.
This means less time for patrol deputies to be proactive in individual, self-initiated enforcement efforts, Cavallero said.
Cavallero plans to add additional deputies to the county gang and drug task forces and the departments patrol unit in response to the violence.
City reports lower homicide rate
While Merced County saw a record-high number of homicides, the city of Merced reported the lowest total in many years with four cases and a total of five homicides. All those cases remain unsolved, police said.
Two were killed in a double-homicide May 23 in the 1100 block of West 12th Street. Another man was murdered Feb. 4 in the 300 block of East 15th Street, and another was reported May 13 in the 3300 block of R Street. The last homicide in 2013 in Merced was reported Aug. 3 in the 1100 block of S Street, Merced Police Capt. Tom Trindad said.
Merced City Police reported nine homicides in 2012 and seven in 2011.
Trindad credited the city's gang unit and patrol officers with slashing the homicide rate in 2013.
They all did an outstanding job getting guns off the streets and away from people who shouldnt have had them to begin with, Trindad said.
According to Sun-Star archives, Los Banos police reported two homicides in 2013. One case resulted in arrests. Just one murder was reported in Los Banos the year before.
Atwater and Livingston reported one homicides apiece, down from two in each city in 2012. Both 2013 cases resulted in arrests and charges, according to Sun-Star archives.
Dos Palos had one homicide in 2013 and one the year before. Two people were arrested in connection with the 2013 case, according to Sun-Star archives.
There were no homicides in Gustine in 2013 or 2012, officials confirmed.