Fresno's murder rate is drastically down in 2011

FRESNO, Calif.

A new approach to policing Fresno gangs is getting credit for a drastically lower murder rate in the first two months of the year.

Police launched their new approach after a very violent start to 2010. There were eight murders in the first two months of the year. This year, the number is down to three.

Nearly two months into the year, the city is on pace for its fewest murders in eleven years. Police Chief Jerry Dyer says a special focus on gangs is a big reason why.

Through Operation Ceasefire, police have picked up 137 gang members over the last eight months -- not to arrest them, but to talk to them about the ramifications of thug life.

"We're taking away their anonymity," the chief said. "We're targeting individuals that are the most violent, active and influential and letting them know that if they continue in violent crime, there are going to be severe consequences."

The results have been noticeable. In the first five months of 2010, before the operation started, there were 25 murders in Fresno. Afterwards, in the last seven months, there were 19. And the success has spilled into a new year, despite the third homicide on Wednesday.

Fresno's latest murder happened on San Pablo, just south of Belmont. Police spent most of the night canvassing the neighborhood, trying to gather any information they could. They have not caught a suspect yet, but last year, Fresno Police cleared 84% of their homicide cases.

The national average is 20% lower, according to the FBI, and Dyer says the clearance rate is another factor in keeping the number of murders down. But he isn't ready to celebrate. "The reality is that it only takes one feud between some of the rival gangs to start that all over again," he said.

Investigators say the most recent murder is gang-related, but officers are again contacting gang members, hoping to suppress any retaliation before it starts and keep the murder rate down.

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