By the summer of 2021, there had already been six homicides in Palm Springs. By August 2022, there had been four. But so far this year, there has not been a single homicide in the city.
What’s behind the drop?
Although it’s often difficult, and sometimes impossible, to discern the reason behind increases or decreases in violent crime from year to year, the Palm Springs Police Department believes that some of their recent efforts may be behind this year’s decrease.
Lt. Gustavo Araiza told The Post that the department has been making a concerted effort to curb what they see as the root causes of violence.
PSPD put together a special enforcement unit, for instance, focused on tackling gang-related issues by contacting people they believe to be in gangs, and increasing the number of seizures of illegally possessed weapons, he said.
“By taking guns off the street, I believe we’ve been able to have somewhat of an impact on that,” Araiza said.
Araiza also mentions the Palm Springs City Council and the support they’ve shown the police department. He said a new hiring bonus has helped to recruit more officers, especially after dealing with staffing shortages.
“We’re doing much better now than we have in the last couple of years,” he said. The police department can now be proactive, he said, with more officers spread out across the special enforcement unit and patrols.
Araiza is also quick to point out that not all homicides are gang-related, and in many cases, he said, it’s hard for law enforcement to address violent crimes of passion or opportunity. “It’s difficult to say that we’ve had an impact on crimes like that,” he said.
Particularly in crimes of passion and intimate partner homicide, there is some evidence that law enforcement can be effective at reducing intimate partner violence. Researchers have also found that access to guns could be one of the strongest risk factors for intimate partner homicide.
As of the end of July, there had been nine reported homicides in the Coachella Valley in 2023 — 24 fewer than last year’s total with five months left in the year. Coachella, which had the most homicides of any valley city in 2022 — with 10 — has reported only one so far this year.
Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage and La Quinta are the three other Coachella Valley cities that have also not had a reported homicide in their city this year. Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs, where homicide totals over the past five years have been similar to those in Palm Springs, have each reported one so far in 2023.
But Araiza said PSPD doesn’t often look toward other cities when evaluating crime trends.
“That would only happen if our investigation took us to another city,” he said. “Then we might try and find links.”
Otherwise, he said, individual incidents of homicides in other cities aren’t “very informative” for trends in Palm Springs.
Though cities nationwide saw a jump in homicides in 2020, Coachella Valley cities did not. In Palm Springs, 2021 saw the highest number of homicides in the past five years (with seven). California as a whole saw a 30% jump in homicides in 2020, which matches the national increase, but is still far lower than past peaks in the 1980s.
Criminal justice researchers also caution against using anecdotal and limited data when looking at changes in homicide rates, and warn that it can be taken out of context or used for political reasons.