Santa Ana’s criminal homicide rate is increasing at a record rate, as the city notched its 10th homicide for the year by mid-February. The unprecedented spike in criminal killings prompted the police rank-and-file leader to criticize Chief David Valentin for minimizing the record increase.
Putting the rise in context, Santa Ana experienced 22 criminal homicides in 2021 – which was, in turn, a huge increase from 15 criminal homicides in 2020 and 13 in 2019.
The alarming rise in killings prompted Chief Valentin to undertake damage control via a YouTube video featuring department spokesperson Sgt. Maria Lopez.
“We feel it’s important to acknowledge the recent increase in homicides throughout the city and provide accurate data,” Lopez says in the video. “So far this year we have had 10 homicides.”
She says only 60% of the killings are gang-related, and only 40% involve gangs from Orange County.
“Of these 10, four are classified as non-gang related disputes,” says Lopez. “Of the six gang-related homicides, two involved gangs outside of Orange County.”
“When comparing gang related homicides from 2021 to the current year,” Lopez continued. “We have experienced a total of four local gang rivalry homicides.”
Valentin’s critics within the department panned the response as more spin than transparency.
“Chief Valentin’s community message is less than transparent,” said Sgt. Gerry Serrano, president of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association. “There were 22 homicides in Santa Ana last year, which was a 57% increase in murders from the year before. Barely a month into 2022 and Santa Ana has had nearly half as many homicides as occurred all of last year. It doesn’t matter to victims and their families whether or not the murderers are from here or outside of Orange County.”
In the video, Lopez went on to say seven of the 10 homicide cases have resulted in arrests and compared that favorably with “many police departments across the nation,” which she claims have an arrest rate of 20 to 30% when it comes to “complex gang-related incidents. ”
Serrano responded that this a reflection of the excellence of Santa Ana police officers, especially its homicide detectives, and should not deflect from the sharp rise in homicides.
Late last year, Mayor Vince Sarmiento claimed that serious crime in Santa Ana was on the decline. Sarmiento is running for the seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, and is considered the frontrunner.
“This is a failure by the chief to lead the department and stand up to council majority that wants to hamstring the ability of our officers to enforce the law,” Serrano continued. “This failure is why the department’s rank and file officers held a vote of no confidence in Chief Valentin last year. He has not only failed the men and women of the police department, but has failed to protect our Santa Ana community.”