Cathedral City – A spate of eight gang-related homicides in this community is an aberration and not indicative of the overall crime rate or safety of the city, Acting Police Chief Anthony Yoakum recently told the City Council.

Though violent crime has spiked, the overall crime rate in the city is down 16% to 17%, the acting chief said.

“The crime rate in the city is not out of control,” Yoakum said. “It’s a really safe community. It’s just that one particular group is causing all of these problems. That’s what we’re addressing.”

In the first 10 months of this year this community of about 55,000 people experience eight homicides. The city typically averages about three per year.

“Any loss of life is very tragic and unacceptable,” Yoakum told the City Council.

Five of the eight have been linked to an increase in gang activity, he said, adding the department is taking steps to address the issue and activity. In a move to keep police operations secret and not tip off would-be criminals, Yoakum said he could not outline all the measures being taken. However, he said, the special enforcement team has adjusted its schedule to work on days and at times when gang activity is most prevalent and most frequent. The parole and probation team has been tapped for its resources. Resources from the countywide gang enforcement team and the district attorney’s office have also been called in to help.

The crime analysis unit has been able to put together information about who authorities are looking for, their associates, their hangouts, and where patrols should be focused, Yoakum said.

“It helps us direct those resources into the right areas to address these issues.” Yoakum said. “Our detectives have been very busy. They have executed over a dozen search warrants, so far, related to these crimes. I’m very proud of the work that they’ve been doing so far. They’re just nonstop. They’ve been very good in keeping our patrol officers educated in what’s going on, so we’re not duplicating work. They’re letting our officers know who we’re looking for, how they can help, what areas to focus their efforts in. It’s been a great communication between the two divisions.”

The City Council earlier this year approved a $38,000 purchase of some intersection cameras that can be placed in different locations within the city. Yoakum said those also should help.

The collective efforts have netted positive results, Yoakum said. There have been numerous arrests made. In one weekend, police took five guns off the street. Police have also made numerous arrests for gun-related or weapons-related crimes, drug-related crimes, probation, parole issues, and warrants.

“We’ve had a lot of success there,” Yoakum said. “We’ve confiscated large amounts of money off some of these arrests, so there’s been some positive results there, and I believe they will continue. There are other things that we are doing … and I do have a lot of faith that we’re going to have a lot more positive results in the future.”

Mayor Mark Carnevale thanked Yoakum for giving what he called a “real sensitive report.”

“We know you have a difficult position because nobody knows, no one has a crystal ball, what’s going to happen at any given time,” Mayor Mark Carnevale said. “Then with the secrecy of it, the silence of these people that do this. They don’t communicate well with the law. So, it makes your job difficult. But I, for one, have the faith in you and your team to solve these crimes, and be proactive, and maybe stop a lot of this … by dispersing that gang. I know it’s a real… they’ve been here a long time.”

Yoakum assured Councilmember Raymond Gregory that the department is adequately staffed.

Mayor Pro Tem John Aguilar congratulated Yoakum on the lower overall crime rate.

“We wanted this presentation tonight specifically to hear from you, to be able to communicate to the community that … there are measures being taken, important measures being taken to curb this, what appears to be, a spree. It’s great to hear that you’re doing that. And I want to congratulate you (and) your commanders.”

Aguilar specifically noted that the homicides are occurring in “high poverty neighborhoods,” which reflects issues the City Council is attempting to address through economic development and other ways to help run interference.

“I want the community to also understand that we’re approaching this from all sides holistically,” Aguilar said.

Councilmember Ernesto Gutierrez asked Yoakum the million-dollar question: “Do you think that our citizens or residents need to be worried about becoming a victim?”

Yoakum assured him there is no need for worry.

“The crime rate’s not out of control,” Yoakum said. “It’s actually down overall, and it’s been going down increasingly over this year. Like I said, this is just an isolated particular gang that is committing these crimes. Our investigators have very good leads on who it is and are addressing that. So no, the community does not need to be worried, but like always, everybody should be very cautious, and in whatever they’re doing, be aware of their surroundings, and take necessary precautions just like you would any other day.”

Gutierrez alleged that there have “a few robberies” in the city that “have nothing to do with these gangs.”

Yoakum said there have been some robbers associated with the same group. He advises residents to:

  • Travel together with more than one person.
  • Be mindful of your property, putting it away where it belongs.
  • Lock your cars.
  • Be mindful of normal security measures.

“Maybe those lawful citizens buy a gun,” Gutierrez suggested. “It could help.”

“I don’t think we want to get into that debate,” Yoakum said.