Merced County reported 23 homicides in 2012, a roughly 64 percent increase over the 14 cases reported the year before, according to the coroner's office.
The numbers reflect 8.85 homicides per every 100,000 people in the county, including its six incorporated cities. Merced County has a population of about 259,898, according to 2011 U.S. Census numbers.
Nine of 2012's homicides happened in the city of Merced, compared to seven reported in 2011, which is an increase of 28.5 percent. Of those 2012 homicides in Merced, four have resulted in arrests, according to Merced police Lt. Tom Trindad.
The Merced County Sheriff's Department handled eight homicides in the county's unincorporated areas in 2012, compared to three in 2011, which is an increase of 166.7 percent. Of those, four resulted in arrests, and one included a suspect who was killed by officers.
In the officer-involved shooting, Turlock police on July 29 opened fire and killed parolee Joseph Davis on Bradbury Road off Highway 99, after chasing him from Turlock into northern Merced County. That case was ruled justifiable homicide, according to the Sheriff's Department.
In another case, the suspect, 20-year-old Grace Azevedo, was released after prosecutors determined there was evidence that the July 28 shooting of Roberto Azevedo, 27, at an El Nido mobile home might have been in self-defense.
Merced County reported 28 homicides in 2010 -- the highest number in the past decade.
Sheriff Mark Pazin said it's difficult to pinpoint a specific reason for the "peaks and valleys" that happen with homicide statistics.
"We in law enforcement accept these situations as they come our way, and we do everything we can to solve these cases," Pazin said.
Numbers for all serious crime categories should be available this month, when agencies submit a report of so-called Part 1 crimes to the FBI, which include homicide, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny, auto theft and arson.
Among the other cities in Merced County, Atwater reported two homicides last year, one of which resulted in arrests.
Livingston also reported two homicides in 2012. One of those cases resulted in an arrest, although that person was released after prosecutors did not file charges, according to Livingston Police Chief Ruben Chavez.
Neither Livingston nor Atwater reported homicides in 2011.
Dos Palos and Los Banos both reported one homicide in 2012. Each of those cases resulted in an arrest.
City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.