EAST PALO ALTO, Calif. - A city on the Peninsula that was once dubbed the nation's "Murder Capital" in 1992 is celebrating a huge milestone: no homicides in 2023.
East Palo Alto used to be known for violent crime, but last year, the city saw zero homicides. Chief Jeff Liu of the East Palo Alto Police Department credits much of this achievement to the community's continued commitment to caring for one another.
"Not only do our department members deserve a lot of credit, but our partner agencies, the DA's office and the community," Liu told KTVU.
Liu grew up in Palo Alto, and he knew East Palo Alto's challenging reputation as a youngster.
"I remember as a kid my dad would always say don't go to EPA. At the time it was very dangerous in EPA. and he said do not go to EPA," Liu said.
The city had a violent streak for years, reaching a zenith in 1992 when 42 people lost their lives to homicide.
Now, the chief says the department is successful because they are committed to hiring officers who want to do good in the community.
"I can train good people to be police officers, but it doesn't go the other way. We start with a great person, hiring great people and then empowering them and enabling them to go out there and build some amazing community partnerships," Liu said.
Officer Eric Lopez has been on the East Palo Alto police force for five years.
"I always felt like I could do this job, and I speak Spanish. I want to say a large population here in East Palo Alto is Spanish-speaking only...they need that barrier connected, and I'm here to help," Lopez said.
Lopez says officers in the department have close ties to the community, which helps them in their work.
"Everybody here knows everybody in the community. They've been here for generations. It benefits us," said Lopez.
The police department's partnerships include close relationships with school leaders and even members of the clergy, like Pastor Deborah Lewis-Virges at St. Mark AME Zion Church.
"Study after study has shown that a lot of the violence we were known for had to do with drug or gang affiliation, it wasn't random acts of violence," said Lewis-Virges.
She says engaging the youth is a huge part of the community's efforts to maintain safety, but that hasn't been the only thing that's changed.
"There's been an increase and an appreciation for human life once again. Not making it so frivolous that an argument can end up with three or four folks killed, we're trying to find new ways to manage our differences," Lewis-Virges said.