STOCKTON, CA - What a difference a year makes.
After two years ofrecord numbers ofhomicides, Stockton may be turning the corner on violent crime.
On Friday, state leaders came to Stockton to study what's going right.
"In many respects, Stockton has faced and currently faces many of the same challenges that we're facing in Oakland," Assem. Rob Bonta, D-Oakland,said at the hearing.
At this time last year, Stockton had already experienced 43 homicides. This year: there have been 16.
Non-injury shootings have dropped by half.
"The Stockton story needs to be told across the state as an example of what you can do to achieve more with less," said Lenore Anderson with Californians for Safety and Justice.
"We, in fact, are the most understaffed police agency in the nation for a city our size with the type of crime rate we have," Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones told the group.
Jones met with members of California's Assembly Select Committee on Gun Violence in the East Bay to share how Stockton has confronted a massive crime wave.
"What we really noticed during that time just kind of from a street level, observations from our staff, was there was this comfort level of carrying and using firearms that I certainly had never seen before and it was really at a level that was an epidemic level," Jones said.
So, the seizure of illegal weapons became a priority, but it was only part of a bigger strategy to identify and arrest the city's worst offenders.
"It was a small percentage of groups and people that were committing a very large amount of our gun violence, and a lot of it was retaliatory shootings back and forth, back and forth between these groups," Jones said.
"We know that especially when it comes to young adults, many who become offenders have a long history of being victims beforehand," Anderson said.
That is why Jones stressed partnerships with community leaders as key to reaching those most at risk. Some urged police to go even further with outreach efforts, starting as early as elementary school.
"Having your presence in the schools in the beginning of the children's development versus in the streets after it's too late: 'Come in', be their friends," one woman told the group during public comments.
It is still too early to declare victory in Stockton. That is why Jones insists that maintaining focus will be critical to long-term success.
"The gun shootings have not stopped. They still continue. We still have some very active groups, and we have to definitely keep our eye on the ball," Jones said.
The Assembly Committee on Gun Violence will meet again in the fall in Oakland, then hold a final hearing in Sacramento to finalize plans for possible policy changes.