Vargas: Rash of homicides raises questions about what’s behind this bloody epidemic


According to a Washington Post investigative report, homicides in America’s top 50 cities increased by nearly 17 percent in 2015. As my old criminal justice professor would say, “That is statistically significant.”

Cleveland, Ohio led the increase with 90.5 percent. And Chicago, with 102 murders in the first two months of this year, is not far behind.

The deadly trend isn’t just happening in large cities. And it’s showing no signs of slowing.

For example, Santa Ana has seen an increase in shootings with more than one a day since the first of the year. And in the sleepy California central coast town of Santa Maria, there were 15 homicides in 2015 and already six in January of this year — this for a city that normally averages just one or two homicides a year.

What’s the cause?

No one is sure.

Is it “depolicing”?

I can’t be certain, but every workplace study I’ve ever read shows a direct correlation between productivity and morale.

It’s apparent police morale is pretty low these days with all the underserved hatred out there. And I can comfortably say this hatred is undeserved since the overwhelming majority of police officers are doing a great job each and every day.

Is it decriminalization?

The data is still coming in and is being researched and analyzed to see if there are correlations between the release of low-level offenders and the increase in crime.

I, however, have a great deal of faith in the anecdotal observations of the hundreds of police officers I talk to. And to a person, they agree there’s a problem

But apparently no on on the political side seems to be listening.

Is it gang activity?

There is every indication a lot of these homicides are gang related. Especially in Orange County. And these gang homicides don’t even begin to reflect the number of people shot and wounded, shot at and others who are just plain assaulted by gang members. Those numbers are much higher.

James Howell, from the National Gang Center, told U.S. News and World there has been a 23 percent increase in reported gang homicides in the past five years.

Is it guns?

I know there are a lot of people who believe there are too many guns out there.

I, however, am pretty sure the number of guns available to criminals hasn’t changed much during the last two decades when crime was dropping at a double-digit rate.

The problem isn’t the number of guns. It’s the willingness of people to use them.

I don’t know what you use to measure America’s changing moral compass when it comes to killing.

While scholars and law enforcement professionals can debate all they want about the causes, the reality is people will be looking to law enforcement to respond.

It will take assertive police work to try and manage this epidemic of killing.

This means there will be probation and parole searches of the usual suspects’ residences. There will be more car stops and pedestrian checks of young men in areas prone to violence. There will be a very visible presence of uniformed officers in those communities most at risk.

And, of course, there will always be those detractors who will criticize law enforcement for trying to save people from themselves.

In the end, it comes down to this: Police officers treat the symptoms of dysfunction in our society. They are not the cure.

Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at