Violence report

Rates for some types of violent crimes higher than state averages

A newly compiled report providing a snapshot of violent crime in Sonoma County offers concerning insights into issues of violence. The report was complied by the Sonoma County Department of Health Services, based on the belief that violence creates significant health impacts for residents. The Violence Profile of Sonoma County 2017 was released in January and is the culmination of several years’ work.

According to the Violence Profile, in 2014 there were 3.6 violent crimes per 1,000 residents in Sonoma County. Since 2005 that number has decreased from 5.3 per 1,000 residents. The majority of the decrease occurred between 2005 and 2007.

In 2014, the Healthy Kids Survey found that 5.9 percent of seventh graders, 8.9 percent of ninth graders and 10 percent of 11th graders in public schools replied “yes” to the question, “Did your boyfriend or girlfriend hit, slap or physically hurt you on purpose?”

In addition, 16.7 percent of students at nontraditional schools answered yes. The trend of students at nontraditional schools having violence statistics higher than traditional schools is consistent throughout the profile.

In better news, the 2014 rate for child abuse and neglect in Sonoma County was 4.5 per 1,000 children compared to the state rate of 9.0 per 1,000. While the current rate is half of what it was in 2008, the report says that it is “unclear if in fact this is an actual trend or of there are other reasons for the decline such as different definitions, fewer staff, less reporting, etc.”

Youth and school violence statistics typically includes young people ages 10-24, according to the report, and school violence can include bullying, fighting, weapon use and electronic aggression, such as cyber bullying.

In 2014 there were 96 juvenile arrests for felony violent offenses. 70 (73 percent) were assaults, 21 (22 percent) were robberies, and five (five percent) were rapes. No homicides or kidnappings were reported as committed by juveniles, and in addition there were 193 misdemeanor assault and battery juvenile arrests in Sonoma County in 2014.

Fourteen percent of ninth graders in Sonoma County reported having been in a physical fight at school in 2014, and for nontraditional schools it jumps to 25 percent. Thirty-two percent of ninth graders reported being harassed one or more times in the preceding 12 months and 15 percent reported being harassed or bullied because of their race, ethnicity or national origin.

Elder abuse is a growing problem, as the county’s population of people over 60 is projected to grow from 99,553 (21 percent of total population) in 2010 to 143,636 (24 percent of total population) by 2030. Rates of elder abuse have been increasing since 2011, and have consistently been twice as high as the state number. 

In 2014, Adult Protective Services reported 1,108 cases with a confirmed finding of elder abuse. This constitutes a per capita rate 1,342.44 per 100,000 people, double the state rate for the same period of 650.58 per 100,000.  

Sexual violence and sex trafficking are linked in this report, and both statistics are growing in Sonoma County. In 2014 in Sonoma County the rate of “forcible rape” was 34.94 per 100,000 people, which is nine points higher than in 2013. However, the report states that may be due to a change in the federal definition of rape between 2013 and 2014. However, it is still 10 points higher than the state rate for the same time period.

From 2011 to 2016, 161 human trafficking and prostitution cases were filed by the Sonoma County District Attorney’s office. Prior to 2012 there had been 3.6 felony cases per year and by 2014 it was nine. An increase in felony cases has seen a decrease in misdemeanor cases from 65 to 27 per year pre-and-post-2012.

In all areas of sexual crime, the report says, underreporting continues to be a serious safety and health issue.

Suicide is also on an upward trend. Each year approximately 69 Sonoma County residents die by suicide. The suicide rate in the county is significantly higher that the state, 13.1 people per 100,000 versus 10.1 per 100,00 in the period 2008-2012. The county experienced a significant increase from 2005 to 2009, (11.6 to 13.1), while the state rate did not change.

From 2008 to 2012 there were 346 suicide deaths in Sonoma and the rate for men is nearly three times higher than women. In addition, white residents’ suicide rates are significantly higher than Hispanics, 16.0 people per 100,000 versus 5.4.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among residents aged 10-24, but it has a significantly lower rate than all other age groups. Adults aged 45 and older have significantly higher rates than younger residents.

The county also has a higher per capita rate of involvement in gangs than the state. From 2011 to 2013 a survey of 7,911 students showing gang membership along racial/ethnic lines, showed that the county population of most nonwhite ethnic groups had a greater likelihood of claiming gang membership than their populations across the state.

Total gang membership (in 160 total gangs) in the 2010 was found to 3,413 out of a county population of 483,878, for a per capita rate of 705 per 100,000. The state numbers for 6,442 total gangs shows a per capita of 632 per 100,000.

In 2013-14, four percent of seventh graders, five percent of ninth graders, seven percent of 11th graders and 11 percent of nontraditional students in the county considered themselves gang members.

Finally, stakeholders identified several local factors contributing to violence in Sonoma County. These included the dispersed geography of the county, the economic and housing downturn from 2005 to 2010, housing, alcohol and other drugs, technology, racism and classism (especially in the schools) and a lack of cultural competency and humility.

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