FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Breana Gomez, a 14-year-old.
Lorenzo Perez, a local street vendor.
True Vang, a mother of six.
They are just three of the 22 people killed in the city of Fresno since the start of 2021.
"What people need to realize is that all these different effects, which a lot of people have called the perfect storm in 2020, have carried on," says Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama.
Balderrama says the violence is a continuation of the pandemic and civil unrest over the last year.
But it's a standout statistic when compared to the homicides per capita in California's other biggest cities this year -- Fresno's homicide rate per 100,000 people is among the highest. It's more than 4 times that of LA, San Diego, San Jose, or San Francisco, and higher than the next four largest California cities too, apart from Oakland.
"We have to bring this city back to what it has been in the past," Balderrama said. "You know, just a couple of years ago, we only had 39. That's about average, 40 homicides per year, and we had 74 last year. So we can't put up with that anymore."
We took a look at the total number of homicides over the past 5 years and calculated the average for three months to create a closer comparison to this year, which again is at 4.12 to date.
After a 40+ year career in the Fresno Police Department, Jerry Dyer left his post as Chief to lead the city as mayor in 2019. He says since then, violence has surged.
"I can tell you when I left as a police chief of this city, we were averaging about seven shootings per week," he said. "Those numbers more than doubled and in some cases, tripled."
He says part of the approach to combatting violence will need to be more boots on the ground.
After taking over as Chief in January, Balderrama quickly recognized that problem. Of the 838-person department, over 100 have been sidelined due to injuries or illnesses, both on and off the job.
That leaves about 300 officers on the street per day. Balderrama wants to get that number up to 400.
"Right now, the focus has to be on violent crime, so I am going to have to do a restructure and that is going to mean temporarily transferring certain units to the streets," he said.
He says shifting around the department to prioritize violent crime will put 50 more officers out on patrol. The department is also looking to double its multi-agency gang unit team from 7 to 14.
"There's a lot of frustrated people in the community right now that want to help us that are giving us the information so we can go out there and find the people who are committing the most heinous crimes," said Balderrama. "So we are going to continue doing that because it works."
The department's goal is to have 400 officers on Fresno streets within the next few years. The Chief says though he has a commitment from city leadership to ensure the finances, the controversial sentiment towards law enforcement right now has not made recruiting easy.
Chief Balderrama doesn't have an explanation for the murders of homeless individuals and street vendors that Fresno has seen lately, but he has a message for those killing the innocent and vulnerable.
"That if you commit a crime of violence in the city, people are going to call the police. We are going to identify you," said Chief Balderrama. "We are going to find you. We are going to arrest you. We are going to put you in jail. That's the message."