SPECIAL REPORT: 2 out of 3 murderers got away with it in 2020

CBS47 Investigates

FRESNO, Calif. (KGPE) – A 2020 crime report released to CBS47 through a public records request reveals startling numbers you haven’t heard before.

Out of 73 homicides last year, 47 have yet to be solved.

That’s the most unsolved murders in more than forty years.

We received a 191 page document detailing crime in Fresno last year.

There were shocking numbers we uncovered including two out of every three murders still unsolved.

This means last year, more often than not, murderers are getting away with it.

“It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before, really in this generation,” Police Chief Paco Balderrama said.

Looking over 40 years of Fresno crime reports, 2020 broke several records.

Homicide, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft all increased in 2020.

Overall violent crime was at a 15 year high.

Aggravated assaults at a 19 year high.

Homicides were at a 26 year high.

“If you’ll consider out of the top 70 largest cities, 66% of them experienced a rise in violent crime, so Fresno is no different,” Balderrama said.

But the chief says there is one key difference.

“The gang culture is so much more prominent and different than I’ve ever seen,” Balderrama said.

Chief Balderrama took over the Fresno Police Department in January 2021.

He came here from Oklahoma City.

“In Oklahoma City, you’ve got 5,000 gang members,” Balderrama explained. “Here, you have an estimated 22,000 for a city that is smaller, so that has to have an impact in a year like 2020.”

The population in Oklahoma City is just over 643,000 compared to Fresno’s population of around 540,000.

Balderrama says the number of officers on the street help tell the story.

“Police left in record numbers, retired in record numbers, that’s another number we should talk about.”

When you crunch the numbers, the disparity is overwhelming.

“A police force of 700 officers, less than 300 on patrol, you compare that with 22,000 gang members, that’s too big of a problem for me to solve.”

Balderrama says anti- police sentiment is taking a devastating toll.

“When police officers do not feel confident that they can be proactive, well that’s going to allow for the criminal ailment to do whatever they want to do, and that is exactly what happened.”

Balderrama says his department is now taking the proactive approach whereas he says last year many departments were reactive.

He has already shifted dozens more officers to patrol.

He has doubled the resources in gang enforcement.

He has even added more detectives to handle homicide cases.

“I think the public expects justice and part of justice is for there to be consequences for your actions.”

Lack of consequences is a huge part of the deadly equation.

“When there are no consequences, violent crime is going to go up and we saw that in dozens of cities across the United States so we do have to be tough on crime.”

But being tough on crime goes beyond just the police department.

Fresno County DA Lisa Smittcamp is expressing concern about what will happen if Sacramento doesn’t start passing laws that will make criminals realize when they commit a crime, there will be a price to pay.

“The narrative and the reality are far apart, and if we don’t reassess our values, we’re not headed for good places,” Smittcamp said.

Smittcamp says bit by bit, year by year, Sacramento has been taking away police powers with deadly results.

“To go the extreme where you are creating laws, not only unfair, but you’re taking all the tools out of the toolbox for cops and prosecutors,” Smittcamp said.

Smittcamp says the surge in Fresno County crime will continue until there are major changes at the state capitol.

We asked Smittcamp if she considers Fresno a safe city.

“Not always, no. I mean anyone can be a victim of crime at anytime,” Smittcamp said. “I’d love to look in this camera as the District Attorney and say ‘oh, Fresno is a very safe place to live’ but right now, I can’t say that.”

In 2020 there were more homicides here than San Francisco, San Diego, and San Jose, all cities with much larger populations than Fresno.

But there is cause for optimism.

So far in 2021, Balderrama says murder cases are now being solved at a 70 percent success rate compared to 35 percent in 2020.

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