East Palo Alto: Drastic drop in homicide rate attributed to community policing

- It was once known as the murder capital of America, now, with the exception of one murder-suicide, the city of East Palo Alto is marking a two year span of no other homicides. The police chief called it a big accomplishment for the city. 

Among the department's strategies include high visibility of their officers not to mention the community and police willing to work together.

“I remember hearing gunfire myself all the time and for me growing up it was just my home,” said Det. Lydia Cardoza of East Palo Alto Police. 

Born and raised in East Palo Alto, Lydia Cardoza recalled the violence in the early '90s. It was so dangerous, citizen guards held watch over homes shot at after residents spoke up about drug dealers.

“At times it was definitely scary but when you grow up in a place where that is the norm you just learn to do what you have to do,” said Cardoza. 

Inspired for change, fast forward 25 years, she's now a detective for East Palo Alto Police. Back in 1992, there were 42 killings in a city of 28,000 people. Now, murders have vanished.

“I couldn't be happier,” said East Palo Alto Police Chief Albert Pardini. “I see the community involved. When you walk down the street, people are stopping, waving, talking, asking how things are going.”

Chief Pardini said, violent crimes to date, have gone down six percent from last year. He credits a lot of it to resolving disputes early on so they don't escalate into a stabbing or shooting and community policing, which he said has made a big difference.

“It went from three and half years ago very few calls came in to the tip line,” said Chief Pardini. “Now people call in constantly, emails come in with information about things that are going on.”

“I’m not doing funerals regarding violence as much as I was doing four years ago,” said Pastor Paul Bains of Project WeHOPE

Pastor Bains co-founded Project WeHOPE. While he understands the city's economic landscape is changing with an Ikea and Amazon, he said the main reason for the change is trust.

“What the police department has done...they have established a level of trust within the community that was not at the level it is today,” said Pastor Bains. 

As for Cardoza, she can't help but be proud of her hometown and proud to keep her community safe.

“When they can see the change, to me I find it the most rewarding,” said Cardoza. 

The chief is now looking at getting more funding for three more police officers. He wants to start a traffic division, to train motorcycle officers to help with the morning and evening commute.

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