Monterey County had the highest youth homicide rate in California in 2010, followed by Alameda County, according to an analysis conducted by the Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit group focused on curbing firearms violence.
The homicide rate for 10- to 24-year-olds in Monterey County, which includes Salinas, was 24.36 per 100,000, nearly triple the statewide rate. Alameda County, which includes Oakland, had a rate of 18.41 per 100,000. El Dorado, Humboldt, Napa, Placer and Sonoma counties had no youth killings in 2010.
The study [PDF] analyzed 35 California counties with at least 25,000 people between the ages of 10 and 24. Statewide, the vast majority of the slayings involved firearms.
Salinas has long struggled with violence.
"Our neighborhoods – especially on the east side – have experienced so much death and violence over the last 20 to 30 years that a lot of these people have started to display symptoms of PTSD," said Brian Contreras, who co-founded the Second Chance youth program, which works to prevent gang violence in Monterey County. "Our kids don't want to go out at night."
The high youth homicide rate in Monterey County may be due in part to an entrenched gang culture and a lack of activities, he said. "There's really nothing to do, not stuff for young people."
Oakland also has traditionally struggled with long-standing gang problems, said Billie Weiss, an epidemiologist at UCLA, who studies injury and violence prevention. Risk factors for youth violence include high unemployment, poverty and drug trafficking in the community, she said.
Despite the high rate in some counties, there are signs that youth violence might be decreasing in California. Statewide, the youth homicide rate dropped from 10.5 per 100,000 in 2009 to 8.5 in 2010. The rate fell even further in Monterey County: In 2009, the rate was more than 31 per 100,000.
"Even though they're number one, their rate has gotten better," said Josh Sugarmann, study co-author and executive director of the Violence Policy Center. Alameda County also saw its youth homicide rate decline from 20.69 in 2009.
Monterey County's rate for 2011 likely will drop when the numbers are finalized. Salinas had less than half the number of shootings in 2011 that it did in 2010. Contreras credits coordinated efforts by violence prevention organizations, community groups and law enforcement.
Efforts to teach neighborhood residents the warning signs of violence, as well as programs to help the community heal, have had an impact, he said. Police initiated a cease-fire program for high-risk gang members and also stepped up arrests of key gang members, he said. Plans for a new soccer complex and upgrades to the overcrowded, aging library also might help reduce youth violence, Contreras said.
The homicide numbers don't capture the full toll of gun violence because they don't account for non-fatal shootings and suicides, Weiss said.
"While homicides are easiest for us to get at, they are the tip of the iceberg," she said.