01/10/2012 02:29 pm ET Updated Mar 11, 2012

New Study Ranks California Counties by Youth Homicide Victimization Rates

A new study released today by my organization, the Violence Policy Center (VPC), ranks California counties by their youth homicide victimization rates. The annual study, Lost Youth, compares rates of homicide victimization for Californians ages 10 to 24 by county, race, ethnicity, weapon used, circumstance, and location. This is the second year that the VPC has conducted the study, which uses the most recent unpublished California Department of Justice Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR) data available.

The study found that young people in Monterey County suffer a murder rate that leads all California counties and is nearly three times the overall state rate for the same age range. This is the second year that Monterey County has led the rankings. While for 2010 Monterey maintained its top ranking compared to other California counties, the county's homicide victimization rate for this age group dropped from 31.24 per 100,000 in 2009 to 24.36 per 100,000 in 2010. Statewide, the homicide victimization rate for Californians ages 10 to 24 dropped from 10.48 per 100,000 in 2009 to 8.48 per 100,000 in 2010.

The top 10 counties with each county's corresponding homicide victimization rate for its population of Californians ages 10 to 24 are:

  1. Monterey County, 24.36 per 100,000
  2. Alameda County, 18.41 per 100,000
  3. San Joaquin County, 18.36 per 100,000
  4. Tulare County, 18.06 per 100,000
  5. Merced County, 13.44 per 100,000
  6. Contra Costa County, 12.94 per 100,000
  7. Fresno County, 11.61 per 100,000
  8. San Francisco County, 11.52 per 100,000
  9. Madera County, 11.39 per 100,000
  10. Los Angeles County, 11.35 per 100,000

Other study findings include the following.

  • Out of the 680 homicide victims ages 10 to 24 in California in 2010, 89 percent were male and 11 percent were female. Fifty-three percent were Hispanic, 34 percent were black, seven percent were white, four percent were Asian, and one percent were "other." Overall, black victims were killed at a rate more than 22 times higher than white victims. Hispanic victims were killed at a rate more than five times higher than white victims. Asian victims were killed at roughly one and a half times the rate of white victims.
  • Firearms, especially handguns, were the most common weapon used to murder youth and young adults. Of the 668 homicides for which the murder weapon could be identified, 87 percent of victims died by gunfire. Of these, 76 percent were killed with handguns.
  • For homicides in which the victim to offender relationship could be identified, 50 percent were killed by a stranger. Thirty-two percent were killed by someone they knew. An additional 19 percent were identified as gang members.
  • The overwhelming majority of homicides of youth and young adults were not related to any other felony crime. For the 500 homicides in which the circumstances between the victim and offender could be identified, 83 percent were not related to the commission of any other felony. Of these, 64 percent were gang-related.
  • Among youth and young adults for homicides in which the location could be determined, 54 percent occurred on a street, sidewalk, or in a parking lot. Fourteen percent occurred in the home of the victim or offender. Twelve percent occurred at another residence, and nine percent occurred in a vehicle.

The study concludes that "homicide, and particularly gun homicide, continues to be one of the most pressing public health concerns in California among youth and young adults ages 10 to 24" and states that "effective violence prevention strategies must include measures that prioritize preventing youth and young adults from accessing firearms, especially handguns."

The study recommends further research into "the identification of the make, model, and caliber of weapons most preferred by this age group as well as analyses identifying the sources of the weapons" and an "expansion of comprehensive violence intervention and prevention strategies that include a focus on the psychological well-being of witnesses and survivors of gun violence."