After decades of notoriety, East Palo Alto's violent crime rate has plunged by 64 percent in one year, according to a newly released Federal Bureau of Investigation report.
The 2014 Crime in the United States report is based on information provided by local law enforcement agencies.
The astonishing statistic covers a year when the city of roughly 29,400 residents had four interim police chiefs. New Police Chief Albert Pardini took the helm in November 2014, replacing Ronald Davis, who ran the department for eight years until November 2013.
East Palo Alto's violent crimes declined from 347 incidents in 2013 to 124 in 2014, according to the report. The city had the greatest drop in aggravated assaults, which plunged from 248 to 56. The city had eight cases of murder or manslaughter in 2013 and five in 2014. The number of rapes dropped from 11 to eight and robberies from 80 to 55.
Pardini said the crime reduction in 2014 largely took place before he became police chief, but he vowed to keep addressing violent crime. He said the most significant change he has seen since November is the community's involvement.
"They are calling us early so we can get involved before things escalate. We've done a lot of intervention, and that has reduced the violent crime," he told the Weekly.
The department has had a 70 percent increase in tip-line activity since he took over, Pardini said. The police department also runs domestic-violence awareness programs as well as provides education about gangs to families, so they will know if their children are starting to enter the gang life.
The department holds monthly precinct meetings, at which people can meet officers and discuss neighborhood problems with them. Officers also attend community meetings set up by residents to observe and discuss problems specific to a street or neighborhood.
Rarely a week goes by when officers are not called to attend one of these meetings, Pardini said.
The chief also holds quarterly town hall meetings, at which he makes presentations to the community. He often walks different neighborhoods with a commander to meet residents in their front yards and get to know them. And people have been forthcoming with information about crimes and community problems, he said.
The department is also using its website to post weekly updates and information as well as to quell rumors.
The combination of police presence in the community, familiarity with residents and transparency appears to be paying off. Summer months are usually when cities see higher homicide rates, but this summer was the first in three years with two back-to-back months without a homicide in East Palo Alto, Pardini said.
"In 2014, we had a homicide in July, August, September and October. This year we had none in August and September," he said.
Per capita in 2014, East Palo Alto had 53 percent less violent crime than San Francisco and roughly 25 percent more than San Jose, according to FBI numbers.
Compared to surrounding cities, East Palo Alto had 4.79 times more violent crimes per capita than Palo Alto, 2.7 times more than Menlo Park and 2.1 times more than Mountain View.
East Palo Alto residents who want to work with the police department to further reduce the crime rate and learn more about what is going on in the city can visit the East Palo Alto Police Department's website at ci.east-palo-alto.ca.us/ and on Facebook at facebook.com/EastPaloAltoPD.