By David DeBolt
Staff Writer, Bay Area News Group
Violent crime in the Bay Area, from Daly City to San Jose to Oakland, rose in 2012, an about-face from previous years in which crime dropped, according to FBI figures released this week.
The largest spikes occurred in Antioch, Santa Clara and Oakland, and only four of the region's 15 big cities -- Concord, Fremont, Santa Rosa and Vallejo -- were immune from overall escalating numbers in murder, rapes, robbery and aggravated assaults, FBI data shows.
Crime experts warn, however, that a year worth of statistics does not necessarily reflect a trend. And the local crime stats mirror a jump in violent crime nationally, a first since 2006. Nationally, violent crime increased by 1.2 percent -- with the western region experiencing the steepest increase -- after declines of 4 percent in 2011, 6 percent in 2010 and 4.4 percent in 2009. The preliminary data released Monday compares crime from 2012 to 2011 in U.S. cities with populations of 100,000 or more. A full report released in the fall will include smaller cities.
"It's always scary when it's at your back door, but it's not completely unique to what's going on here," said Dawna Komorosky, associate professor of criminal justice at Cal State East Bay.
Experts said the increases in certain cities, such as Oakland and San Jose, could be a symptom of reduced police departments. In recent years, the two cities have drastically reduced their police forces.
In Oakland, violent crime was up 19.7 percent in 2012 compared with 2011, with robberies up 29 percent. An analysis by this newspaper in May found that Oakland is the robbery capital of the U.S., with one robbery for every 91 residents last year, the city's highest robbery rate in two decades and the highest of any major U.S. city since 2000.
In San Jose, violent crime jumped 10.6 percent in 2012, with murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults all on the rise. The figures were released as Oakland and San Jose police are clamping down on what has been a bloody few weeks.
There were five slayings in San Jose in the final week of May, putting the city on pace to surpass the number of homicides in 2012, which, at 46, was the highest mark in two decades. The violence has prompted outcry from one elected official to bring in the California Highway Patrol to assist police.
A surge in aggravated assaults, from 94 to 150, resulted in a 24.9 percent rise in overall violent crime in Santa Clara, even as rates for murder, rape and robberies fell. Santa Clara recorded 221 violent crimes in 2012 and 177 the previous year.
"I definitely think that has some impact," former San Francisco Police Department Chief Anthony Ribera, who is now the director of the International Institute of Law Enforcement Leadership at University of San Francisco, said of reduced police forces.
Komorosky agreed and said the decrease in funding for social services have made matters worse.
"It's a bad sign," she said. "We are losing two huge resources to provide strength for our community."
Concord police Chief Guy Swanger said his city's 6.5 percent drop in violent crimes is the result of a more aggressive pursuit of drug dealers and gang members, clearing out homeless encampments and bringing outside domestic violence counselors to work at police headquarters. The largest city in Contra Costa County saw zero homicides in 2012, compared with seven in 2011.
"We went 18 months without a homicide," Swanger said. "That's significant."