The homicide rate in the East San Francisco Bay city of Richmond, Ca., is spiraling ominously upward, the San Francisco Chronicle reprots. Only halfway into the year, the number of killings has nearly matched last year’s total, unsettling residents and police alike. “I’m scared always, day and night,” says a taxi driver. On a recent drive through some of the city’s most crime-plagued neighborhoods, a man on a street corner called out to him menacingly.
Police and city leaders say the upsurge in violence in the gritty city of 102,000 is troubling. The city’s homicide rate eclipses that of Oakland, which has the highest homicide rate of major California cities. Among problems: many ex-cons without jobs and a rampant drug trade.
In hopes of slowing the bloodshed, Police Chief Joseph Samuels Jr., who is the current president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, has reactivated an elite crime-fighting unit focusing on drug dealers, loiterers and traffic scofflaws (called NITRO–Narcotic Intervention Team Restoring Order). But Samuels faces criticism for personnel problems and for the fatal police shooting of a 16-year-old boy who raised a fake gun in a robbery.
Richmond City Councilman Tom Butt says the chief’s crime-prevention plan is not working despite the well-publicized arrests. “I don’t think our city and our Police Department, in particular, have done a good job getting a handle on it,” Butt said. “Yes, we have made progress. Are they there yet? No, they are not.” City Manager Isiah Turner agrees, saying the majority of the City Council is “not pleased with (Samuels’) performance, nor am I.”