Continuing the trend of fewer violent crime incidents and traffic fatalities is among Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama’s New Year’s resolutions for 2024.
Balderrama presented end-of-2023 crime statistics at a news conference at police headquarters on Friday. Major crime is down, including homicides, rapes, and property crimes.
“People will never see and never know the sacrifice that my police officers make every single day. They risk their lives to keep this community safe. So … it makes me proud,” Balderrama said.
Police respond to more than 1,000 calls a day, he said.
Homicides were down 43% in 2023 compared to the previous year. Balderrama highlighted that 2023 had a 100% homicide investigation clearance rate, meaning that all cases were investigated and presented to the district attorney’s office for prosecution.
“When your clearance goes up, justice is being executed. There is no need for a retaliation shooting. And it really helps us all the way across,” Balderrama said. “We are being consistent in our work and we are holding people accountable.”
Shootings are also down, allowing officers to respond to other aspects of law enforcement. Balderrama said one shooting could tie up 12 police officers for up to three hours each.
Rapes are down 19%; robberies down 8%; commercial burglaries are down 44%; and residential burglaries are down 25%.
Hiring is also up. By the end of 2023, Fresno had 859 police officers on duty. In a few weeks, 14 more will join the ranks. A state grant will add 25 more officers to combat organized retail theft.
“The number of shootings go down, you see the number of cops go up. It has a positive effect throughout because most of our major crime categories have been decreased,” Balderrama said.
Domestic Violence Up
Balderrama said domestic violence calls are up 15%. Police handle 916 new cases each month.
“Every crime is a high priority to me, especially domestic abuse. And I can say that to me, domestic violence … as a chief it’s one of the most frustrating crimes because these are acts of violence that happen inside the home. Clearly, I don’t have enough police officers to put one in every house to make sure everybody behaves right and a lot of these crimes go underreported,” he said.
The city recently settled a $500,000 lawsuit that alleged the department did not do enough for two domestic violence victims in 2014. Current Mayor Jerry Dyer was chief at the time.
Balderrama said he has hired more detectives for the domestic violence unit and added a supervisor. More staff are expected in the new year. The department also partners with the Marjaree Mason Center to provide data.
“We do a full assessment, a threat assessment of what the level of risk is to that domestic violence victim. I started on this over a year ago. Nothing to do with any settlement, which I had no idea about. These are things that you do because they’re the right thing to do and they’re going to make our community safe,” Balderrama said.
Advance Peace Praised, Budget Justified
Mayor Jerry Dyer praised community groups for helping with violent crime reduction, including Advance Peace — the group that was once maligned for the perception that it was rewarding criminals to obey the law.
Dyer says they are out there “intervening” and preventing retaliation after shootings occur.
The mayor also defended the department’s budget of $244 million, which is half (50.5%) of the general fund.
“I hear oftentimes about the large percentage of general fund (dollars that are) spent on public safety, specifically on police. And it is true, but I don’t see it as an expense. I see it as an investment whenever we invest in the police department. I see a return,” Dyer said.
City officials also touted its positive relationship with the police union.
“We have a great working relationship with our union. We don’t have to agree on everything. But I can tell you there’s other communities who are completely hamstrung through their relationship with the union,” Balderrama said.
The three-year contract with the Fresno Police Officers’ Association expires in June.
FPOA president, Sgt. Brandon Wiemiller, expects a fair negotiation.
“As we go around the state and meet with other association leaders, they’re a bit taken aback and ultimately envious of the working relationship we have here in Fresno with the mayor, with the city manager, with the chief,” Wiemiller said.
Dyer said negotiations will start in March or April.
“We will be successful, I promise you,” Dyer said.