In an effort to curb the recent surge in violent crime that is plaguing Fresno, the Fresno Police Department and the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office has teamed up with federal law enforcement to create the Violent Crime Suppression Operation.
“We are in some of the most violent times we have ever seen,” said District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp in a Wednesday press conference.
The violent crime stats are startling: the number of shootings has almost doubled year-to-date from last year. U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott said the numbers show a 96 percent increase at the beginning of October from the same time in 2019.
Fresno Police Chief Andy Hall said the number of shootings in Fresno this year is around 550, which has coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, climbing every month from April to September.
But since the law enforcement agencies started the operation on Oct. 6, Fresno has already started to experience positive results.
Hall said there has been a 32 percent reduction in shooting in Fresno. Law enforcement has also arrested 165 felons – which were comprised of 111 active gang members, 22 parolees and 40 who violated probation.
“More importantly, we’ve removed 71 illegal weapons from our streets,” Hall said.
Under this new operation, law enforcement has targeted high-crime neighborhoods, placing more police officers there, and Scott said there are Federal agents on the streets assisting police officers in making arrests. After arrests have been made, the Fresno District Attorney’s Office has worked with Scott to determine which office should prosecute.
“We bring real consequences for violent crime, which unfortunately, much of the time, no longer is the case in the California penal system,” Scott said.
There are currently nine individuals facing Federal charges due to the operation – eight of them involved weapons while the other case involved drug dealing.
“We are nowhere near being done with that because the bloodshed must stop,” Scott said.
Why has Fresno seen an increase in violent crime throughout the pandemic?
For Smittcamp, the blame falls at the feet of Gov. Gavin Newsom and his policies.
One such policy is zero-dollar bail, which was enacted during the pandemic and allowed 1,585 inmates back on the streets, according to Mims.
“I think the thing that’s important for people to realize is that criminals are not stupid people,” Smittcamp said. “Some of these people who are running gangs and they are involved in gang activity, it is a business for them. They understand what happens, and when they understand when the jail is full and that there is zero-dollar bail, they see an opportunity and they take that opportunity.”
Inmates are also being released because state prisons have not been accepting inmates from county jails, Mims said.
“Pointing the finger at the state is the absolute right thing to do, because nearly 20 percent of our jail population is comprised of state inmates that are sentenced that are ready to go onto state prison, however the reception centers are closed,” Mims said. “They are actually timing out in local custody and being released and never moving onto state prison because they’ve been there so long. It’s time for the state prisons to open up.”
Smittcamp called out Newsom directly, telling the governor that it is time for him to do his job.
“Stop using COVID-19 to promote your political agenda,” Smittcamp said. “The blood of the children being shot by out of control gang members in our city is on your hands and on the hands of every person who does not make public safety a priority.”