Santa Barbara County has the fourth-lowest gun-related death rate compared to other midsize counties in the U.S., according to a new report from BackgroundChecks.org.
The report found Santa Barbara County had 4.5 gun-related deaths for every 100,000 residents in 2020. Only Richmond County, New York; Monmouth County, New Jersey; and Ocean County, New Jersey, had lower rates, according to the report.
Santa Barbara Interim Police Chief Bernard Melekian said he was “a little surprised” by the overall ranking given some of the crime in the northern part of the county. But he said the city and county were both “very aggressive with following up on crime.”
“If law enforcement moves quickly and does aggressive follow-up and makes arrests and demonstrates that the agency is concerned with the victims, it breaks the retaliatory violence cycle,” Chief Melekian told the News-Press. “The city police and the (county) Sheriff’s Office do a very good job on following up.”
Chief Melekian said Santa Barbara saw three gun-related homicides within the first two months of 2021. But arrests were quickly made, and there were no more gun-related deaths last year.
According to the BackgroundChecks.org report, Santa Barbara County reported 20 gun-related deaths in 2020, and 52% of all homicides involved firearms. Additionally, 31.7% of all suicides in 2020 involved a gun, the report said.
Among the midsize counties, Orleans Parish, Louisiana; the city of Baltimore, Maryland; Jackson County, Missouri; Jefferson County, Alabama; and Pulaski County, Arkansas, had the highest gun-related death rates in 2020.
In California, Solano County had the highest gun-related death rate among midsize counties with a rate of 12.3 for every 100,000 residents. It came in at No. 56.
Kern County had the 16th highest gun-related death rate among the large metro areas, according to the report.
“One of the long-range solutions to this is continually improving relationships between the police department and the community, even among young people who may be admitted gang members or want to be gang members,” said Chief Melekian. “I think the cultivation of relationships very often leads to information that allows us to prevent these things before they’re happening, and then they don’t make the news.”
In his State of the State address earlier this week, Gov. Gavin Newsom pointed to the importance of public safety.
“We are funding local law enforcement and prosecutors to investigate and solve more crime, bolstering the Attorney General’s Office, prosecuting organized theft rings and getting illegal guns off the streets,” Gov. Newsom said. “But we’re also investing hundreds of millions in new programs to tackle the root causes of crime, doubling down on proven violence-prevention programs.”
The BackgroundChecks.org report said the U.S. saw a 14% increase in firearm-related deaths in 2020 from the prior year and a 43% increase from the previous decade. Those statistics included both homicides and suicides.