For the first time in decades East Palo Alto has had no homicides this year, police Chief Albert Pardini said this week.
The news of zero homicides comes after years of high crime in the city once labeled the "per capita murder capital" of the United States.
But this year's thus-far sterling statistic is part of an ongoing trend that East Palo Alto's police department and its chief are determined to keep.
"At this point last year, we had two homicides. Last year was the lowest number in 16 years; 1999 was the last time there were three or fewer," Pardini said.
He said the force is determined to keep it that way.
"The year's not over yet. We're going to work very hard, being out there and being very proactive, working with the community," he said.
Pardini attributes the drop in homicides to several initiatives his department has in place -- and to an increasing willingness of residents to work with the department. Police now intervene early in disputes of which they're notified. Officers identify all of the parties involved in the dispute and use dispute resolution techniques to calm the situation. In most cases it works, he said. All persons involved know officers have their names and know where they live, he added.
"If we are not successful, we know who is involved. If the situation escalates we can go back," he said.
Bad deals often lead to violent crimes. The department also has "proactive patrols" in key hot spots where people gather for drug deals, he said.
"If you go to Bay Road -- Bay and University or Bay and Clarke -- you don't see 30 or 40 people out there drinking or using and selling drugs. We have no tolerance for that," he said.
The department's other efforts -- precinct walks by the chief and his supervisors, coffee chats with the chief and precinct meetings -- have helped members of the public know their officers by name, he said. Officers also more intimately understand the problems in their jurisdictions, he added.
And residents see the department attacking and resolving smaller quality-of-life issues, such as abandoned vehicles, loud parties and drinking on streets. Those efforts have built credibility and trust, he said.
Early on, the anonymous tip line only occasionally lit up, but that has changed.
"The tip line activates regularly every day, and now people are calling in directly, using their names and asking directly for assistance," he said.
The department had to call in additional officers to the scene of an assault in January because so many people were in line to give police information. One man made a trip to police headquarters the next day to file a written witness statement, he said.
"I think that is huge. It's a big turning point. Crime didn't go down because of our effort alone; it went down because of our efforts and the community getting involved," he said.
On Monday, Pardini will ask the City Council to approve a one-time state grant to beef up a school truancy program. He'll also ask the council to add three police positions from Measure P funds, a half-cent tax increase for neighborhood safety and city services that voters approved in 2016. The additions would increase staffing seven days a week and put more officers on the streets by allowing the department to create an overlap shift, he said.
The department has 36 officers and one vacant position. One person is retiring soon.
The school truancy program has been successful in keeping kids in school, which reduces their chances of joining gangs or committing crimes, he said.
When Pardini asked school principals and staff to identify their top 10 truants, officers went to the students' homes.
"No one was making the kids go to school. Parents are working two or three jobs" and don't see what their kids are doing during the day, he said.
A partnership with parents, teachers and school administrators resulted in getting many of the kids back into school, he said.
Pardini said gang activity is also down. Some gang members have left town, but law enforcement efforts such as the 2014 "Operation Sunny Day," in which 16 people from three East Palo Alto gangs were indicted on murder and other charges, have also been key. The indictments removed dangerous people from the streets and also serve as a deterrent to others.
"People are getting held accountable. With the (San Mateo County District Attorney's) court notes, you'll see a lot of people in East Palo Alto on that list in custody or with cases pending," he said.
The city is also reopening and solving cold cases. Part-time cold-case homicide Det. Mike Stasko solved two cases last year. Detectives identified the perpetrators, but both are are deceased from other cases, Pardini said. Stasko is currently working on three more cold cases.
The department is also working on additional crisis-intervention training for officers to help with domestic violence and emotionally based issues. The department's case referrals to the nonprofit Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse in San Mateo County has skyrocketed.
"Five to six years ago we referred 50 cases a year, now it is in the 300s," he said.
Pardini credited outreach by police and CORA at community events for victims' willingness to come forward.
Pardini also wants to start a traffic-enforcement program to reduce speeding and reckless driving. An East Palo Alto father of five was killed on June 16 at Kavanaugh Street and University Avenue by a speeding driver, 27-year-old Diangelo Pantalion Williams, who was going nearly three times over the speed limit. Williams was charged with one count of vehicular manslaughter and two counts of reckless driving causing bodily injury on July 24, following a police investigation.
According to Pardini, the fatal traffic collision is not considered a homicide and does not get recorded in the homicide category, based on Uniform Crime Reporting standards.