Officials: Pandemic may have led to increase in crime
By Matthew Rodriguez

Like many other cities in the nation, Pasadena has seen a surge in violent crimes in 2020.

“The uptick in violence somewhat (has become) as unbearable as the pandemic,” Councilman and former Public Safety Chairman John Kennedy said during a recent meeting.

For three years, the city has seen a steady decline in crime numbers. In 2019, compared to the previous year, there was a 43% reduction in homicides, 23% in rapes and an overall decline of 2%. With the city amid a pandemic, the steady decline ended this year. 

According to Pasadena crime statistics, instances of most violent crimes have increased—homicides have increased by 25% (one more murder than last year), rape by 69%, assault with a deadly weapon by 12% and overall crime up 4% from 2019. 

The trend is not limited to Pasadena. According to a study examining various criminal offenses across 28 cities published by the Council on Criminal Justice, in late May and June of 2020 homicides, aggravated assaults and gun assaults all drastically rose.

Compared to the summer and fall of 2019, homicide rates increased 42% and 34% in 2020. In the 21 cities that provided homicide data, the study found that there were 610 more homicides, in the same period than in 2019.

Also, aggravated and gun assaults rose 15% this summer. In the fall, aggravated assaults saw a slight decrease to 13% and gun assaults slightly increased to 16%.

In a preliminary report examining the first six months of 2020, the FBI reported that while rapes and robberies decreased, homicides and assaults increased about 15% and 5% compared to 2019 reaffirming the CCJ’s findings.

Experts attribute the uptick in violence to a whole host of reasons. Some believe it’s caused by the protests surrounding police brutality, others credit the crumbling economy. However, while experts may disagree on the exact reason for the uptick in violence, all of them, including the Pasadena Police Department, believe it is related to the COVID-19 pandemic

“We believe that it has to do with COVID and everything going on in 2020,” said Deputy Chief Cheryl Moody in the same meeting. “People are just frustrated. Why this is causing an uptick in gang violence or violent behavior we are unsure.”

Pasadena Police Chief John Perez said he believed that most of the violence is gang-related, citing that most of the victims have been Latino and most of the suspects have been African American.

“The uncomfortable part is the fact that we have a set of victims around Villa-Parke who have been Latino and they have been non-gang members,” Perez said. “We do not have all of the suspect descriptions in all of the instances but the ones that we do are African Americans. We seem to have a gang issue.”

Perez added that the likely explanation is that gang members are targeting non-gang members.

Moody and Perez said they believe that some of the violence stems from the number of guns on the street. According to Moody, PPD has confiscated about 300 guns this year. Perez added later in the meeting that over 100 of those guns have either been in the waistbands of people or in their cars.

“When I talked about (the guns) earlier in the year many people were not interested in that fact,” said Perez. “Now, that we have shootings and people are dying, (people) want to see more of that policing.”

According to crime statistics, most of the violent crimes occurred in Kennedy’s District 3. The California Department of Justice defines violent crimes as homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Of the four categories listed by the DOJ, District 3 leads all but one category: homicides. District 3 accounts for 32% of all rape cases, 23% of robberies, and 24% of all types of assault (assault, assault with a deadly weapon and domestic violence assault).

“There are many in the community that have called me and just want to know what’s going on and what is the plan to ameliorate and eliminate this type of behavior that’s causing so many in the community to feel unsafe,” Kennedy said.

In response to the increased violence, Perez and PPD have placed more patrol officers in the areas hoping to dissuade any crime.

“We’ve got a lot to do at least arrest those responsible and we’re getting very close to that,” said Perez. “We are focused on gang incidents and everything surrounding Villa-Parke and some other areas. We do have nightly crews of officers that are well-experienced to make the stops that need to be stopped.”

With the uptick in violence, City Manager Steve Mermell wanted to reassure residents that Pasadena is still a safe city. Mermell and the City Council established a reward fund for information leading to the apprehension and conviction of those responsible for violent crimes.

“I wanted to assure everybody that the Pasadena Police Department is working hard to solve these crimes. Generally, they do solve them. Somebody does know who is behind these terrible acts. We’re asking people to come forward and we will try to incentivize.” n