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As Homicides Mount, Santa Maria Police Chief Renews Plea for Witnesses

With growing criticism amid rising homicide rates, Santa Maria Police Chief Ralph Martin spelled out steps his agency is taking to solve the crimes and stop the violence while noting the stark reality faced by his investigators.

Martin also renewed his plea for the community's help as investigators face a lack of cooperative witnesses, he said during the Santa Maria City Council meeting Tuesday night.

Two homicides occurred in 2013. The three homicides in 2014 — two in the final eight days — were followed by 13 in 2015, he said.

So far, the city has recorded six homicides in 2016. 

“We have a handful of persons in this city of over 100,000 committing these acts,” Martin said.

Two cases involved domestic violence, one was a home-invasion robbery, and another stemmed from a bar fight

Of the nine other homicides, eight have a connection to known street gangs and the ninth is a mystery.

“With respect to the gang-connected homicides, not one witness has come forward to assist our investigators,” the chief said.

Councilman Bob Orach said people with information about the homicides should contact their minister or someone to relay the information to investigators.

“What frightens me the most is that witnesses are not coming forward,” Orach added. “There are people out there that know things …”

With growing criticism amid rising homicide rates, Santa Maria Police Chief Ralph Martin says his department is working hard to stem the violence and solve the crimes.
With growing criticism amid rising homicide rates, Santa Maria Police Chief Ralph Martin says his department is working hard to stem the violence and solve the crimes. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk file photo)

Along with beefing up staff, the Police Department is working with other agencies to crack down on the violence that is not just being seen in Santa Maria, he added.

“We are doing everything possible to end this violence, but we absolutely need the public's support,” he said, adding that tipsters can remain anonymous. 

Five of the six homicides in 2016 also have gang connections, he said.

The sixth involves a newborn baby allegedly killed by her 15-year-old mom. 

Investigators are logging 1,000 hours weekly on the homicide cases, Martin said. 

“We need your help in combating these crimes. We're here, and we're on your side. I guarantee you that the officers take this very personally. They’re doing their best,” he said, adding that he has a fairly young department.

“Keep in mind — two investigators standing over an infant in an autopsy last week. I have crime-scene investigators crawling into cars, taking fingerprints of corpses so that we can identify people. 

“These aren’t the things you see on television. These are the real things we have to do day in and day out,” he said. 

In 2015, his officers arrested 5,800 people, probably the highest in the city's history, the chief said.

“That’s 16 people every day,” he added. 

He also noted the installation of public safety cameras throughout Santa Maria. 

“These cameras will allow for detectives and traffic officers to review activity and to augment their investigations,” Martin said. 

In all, his officers handled 1,800 traffic collisions and wrote 16,000 police reports.

“There are many reasons for spikes in crime,” he said, noting that AB109 led to the release of 40,000 state prisoners that forced the county jails to house many of those.

Additionally, Proposition 47 lowered many felony possession cases to misdemeanors charges.

He also urged voters to carefully review ballot measures, noting other potential initiatives aim at changing laws so some people now arrested for burglaries instead would receive citations.

In other business, the City Council approved a development agreement allowing the owners of the former Laz-E-Daze residential property to complete improvements in phases over four years.

Western Sky Communities plans to develop a mixed-used use project, with commercial buildings along Broadway and residential buildings on the rear of the 4-acre site.

The development in the 1300 block of North Broadway will be used to house agricultural workers under the H-2A temporary worker program. 

City staff noted that since the site switched from housing low-income residents to farm workers, the number of police calls dropped dramatically.

Councilwoman Terri Zuniga voted against the item, explaining she would have preferred a shorter time frame to complete the project.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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