Killing in California

A good crime story doesn’t just have drama and danger, murder and main characters; it also tells us something about the society we live in. A mother drowns her two children. Boys shoot up their high school. These incidents indicate truths about the world we live in.

Crime statistics can do the same thing, albeit in a more obscured, manipulatable, statistical way.

The state attorney general’s office recently published “Homicide in California 2004,” a summary of all known murders and negligent manslaughters that occurred in the state last year. The data come from the California Department of Justice.

As far as the story these numbers tell us: An average of roughly 6.5 people were killed daily in California last year. Oh, and try not to be a young black guy on a Los Angeles sidewalk on a Sunday in August.

The report can be viewed at the attorney general’s Web site, at

Number of homicides (murder and negligent manslaughter) in California in 2004: 2,394

Rate per 100,000 residents: 6.5

Number of homicides in 2003: 2,402

Rate per 100,000 residents that year: 6.7

Percent change in rate from 2003 to 2004: -3

Percent change per population since 1995: -40.9

Number of homicides in the state that year (1995): 3,530

Most ever homicides in California in a single year: 4,095, in 1993

Highest-ever rate of homicide: 14.4 homicides per 100,000 residents, recorded in 1980, when there were 3,405

Least deadly year since 1952, when the state began collecting statistics: 1953, with 276 homicides at a rate of 2.3 per 100,000 residents

Percent of homicide victims in 2004 who were male: 83.2

Ethnic group of the victims, by percentage: white: 17.7; Hispanic: 43.3; black: 32.1

Percent of California’s population that is black: 6.7

Percent that is Hispanic: 35.2

Percent that is white: 43.9

Age group the largest number of victims fall into: 18-29

Percent of victims in that age group: 46.4

Percent of homicide victims who were friends or acquaintances of their killer: 48.5

Percent who were spouses: 6.1

Percent who were parents or children: 6.5

Percent who were strangers: 35.5

Most deadly counties, by rate, in 2004: Los Angeles and San Francisco

Number of homicides in Sacramento County in 2004: 92

Number of homicides in Sacramento County in 2003: 83

Number of homicides in Sacramento County in 1995: 103

Rate of homicide in Sacramento County in 2004 per 100,000 residents: 6.8

Rate in Yolo County: 2.7

Most likely location to have died in 2004: street or sidewalk, 43.9 percent

Percent of homicides that occurred in the victim’s residence: 26.5

Most likely way to have died: firearm, 72.6 percent

Least likely: being drugged

Most likely month to have died: August

Most deadly day of the week: Sunday

Percent of 2004 homicides that have been cleared (an offender has been identified or arrested): 54.9

Number of people given the death sentence in 2004: 12

Number of homicides classified as “justifiable” in 2004: 157

Number of those committed by law-enforcement officers: 122