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A California City Went From "Murder Capital" To Zero Homicides In 2023

Once the “murder capital” of the U.S., East Palo Alto had zero homicides in 2023. In 1992, East Palo Alto was dubbed the “murder capital” of the U.S., with 42 murders in its 2.5 square miles — a per capita rate higher than that of any other city of any size. In 2023, according to East Palo Alto Police Department statistics released last week, the turnaround seemed complete: zero homicides. Law enforcement leaders, residents and city officials point to a complicated mix of circumstances that turned a crime-ridden community into what the mayor now calls “one of the safest places to live in the peninsula.” The San Francisco Peninsula that Mayor Antonio López referred to is home to Stanford University, the opulent town of Atherton and well-heeled Palo Alto. Residents and city leaders scoff at the overly simple idea that gentrification solved the city’s problems, although the median household income has drastically increased, and the typical home price is a little more than $900,000, the Los Angeles Times reports. They argue that poverty and crime don’t necessarily go hand in hand. They point to increased development since they earned the grim title of murder capital, including an Ikea and a Four Seasons hotel.

“In spite of the wrongs of our past, we can move forward and be a model for everyone,” López said. Community Service Officer Magd Algaheim giving a young community member a sticker during a National Night Out party at Joel Davis Park in 2023. East Palo Alto, wedged between San Francisco Bay and Palo Alto, was home to a little more than 28,000 people in the last census count. In 1992, East Palo Alto gained nationwide notoriety. At the time, the city was home to 24,000 people, and it recorded the highest murder rate in the U.S. Homicides jumped to 42 from 20 the year before. Help came in the form of outside law enforcement. Palo Alto donated four officers; Menlo Park provided two. Later, the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department brought in 18 deputies, and the state assigned 12 Highway Patrol officers. By 1993, according to police statistics, the number of homicides dropped to four. Thanks to the attention on East Palo Alto, the city was able to get help from the state and move forward with the development of a shopping center — with a policy in place requiring all businesses to hire from the community. Local nonprofit and faith-based groups focused on engaging youth in after-school programs and activities that would steer them away from crime. For 17 years, the number of homicides in East Palo Alto remained in the single digits. In 2017 and again in 2019, there was one murder in the city.


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