Each gun homicide in San Bernardino costs taxpayers $2.3 million, study says

By RICHARD K. DE ATLEY | rdeatley@scng.com | The Press-Enterprise

PUBLISHED: May 31, 2020 at 8:00 a.m. | UPDATED: May 31, 2020 at 8:01 a.m.

The cost to taxpayers for each gun homicide in San Bernardino is $2.3 million, a criminal justice reform group working with the city said in a study made to find solutions.

Homicides went up more than 15% year-over-year in April, while San Bernardino’s overall crime rate fell by 14%.

“Our calls significantly dropped in April,” San Bernardino police Sgt. John Echevarria, a department spokesman said Thursday. “Everyone was doing the stay-at-home thing, and keeping to themselves.”

In the first full month of stay-at-home orders and other restrictions put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic, every category of crime except homicide dropped, compared to the same time in 2019, according to the Uniform Crime Reporting statistics gathered by San Bernardino for the California Department of Justice.

Burglary was down 31.5%, auto theft down 19.2%, rape down 5.8%, aggravated assault down 2.6%, and robbery dropped by 4.8%, the latest report said, bringing overall crime to a drop of 14.15%.

But calls have gone up within the last week as weather warmed and state and local officials coincidentally loosened pandemic restrictions. “People just got anxious, got a little tired of being home. A lot of people want to get out and do their part,” Echevarria said.

There were four homicides in San Bernardino in April, bringing the 2020 total to 15, compared with 13 for the same time last year. Echevarria said Thursday that suspects have been identified in three of those cases, with two arrests and one warrant issued. The fourth remains unsolved. All four were gun slayings, he said.

Echevarria said department education videos online have encouraged more tips from the community. “These leads have been very helpful,” he said. “In the past, that hasn’t happened.”

On May 27, the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform issued its report, made with the city’s cooperation, that said each gun homicide in San Bernardino costs taxpayers $2.3 million. Each injury shooting costs $871,000 in taxpayer money, the report said.

There have been an average of 47 homicides a year for the past five years for the Inland Empire city, costing taxpayers $108 million annually, the San Bernardino Cost of Gun Violence study said.

A virtual town hall, open to the public, is set for 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. June 1 on the subject of gun violence in the city, with Police Chief Eric McBride among the listed participants.

While “the human toll of gun violence is most costly,” the figures gathered by the institute help bring the issue forward to people who may not be affected by gun violence, said David Muhammad, executive director of Oakland-based NICJR.

“When you can show someone in a neighborhood that has no gun violence that, yes, it affects you, you are paying that cost — we are hopeful that everyone will pay attention,” he said in a phone interview this week.

The costs were assessed by interviewing officials with the San Bernardino Police Department, for example, to put a dollar sign on their response to a crime scene, lining up personnel and time spent, then checking that against public records for salaries, Muhammad said.

Other agencies that also arrive at a homicide scene usually includes the fire department, a contracted private ambulance, county coroner, and district attorney investigators, Muhammad said. The crime scene cost estimate is $10,330, according to the study.

Hospital costs, average of $50,400, are mostly a taxpayer expense, he said, “because of the unfortunate truth that most people who get shot also live within the poverty range.”

The largest single cost is incarceration, $1.94 million, including jail and state prison time for those arrested and convicted.

Muhammad said the estimates were purposely kept down. “We wanted to make the low estimates, to have a completely defensible number. $2.3 million per homicide shooting in San Bernardino —  a city that is strapped for resources, is something that is very serious,” he said.

Muhammad says he hopes the town hall meeting on June 1 will help to reignite efforts San Bernardino started in 2018 with its Violence Intervention Program, created to use community groups to reach those most vulnerable to gun violence.

Since then, the city has voted in a new mayor, has a new police chief, and there has been turmoil in the city manager’s office.

“The number of people involved in gun violence is incredibly small and can be identified,” Muhammad said. What has been delayed since the changes in the city, he said, is connecting those people to the outreach workers. He compared it to giving information and counseling to people vulnerable to coronavirus.

“We can achieve a significant reduction of gun violence in San Bernardino,” Muhammad said. “We really should be exploring reinvestment into these types of community services.”

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