SALINAS, Calif. - UPDATE 8/9/2016 6:15 PM: Salinas police say there have beeen 23 homicides in the city in 2016. That's eight more than at this point last year, when the city's homicide rate reached an all-time high of 40.
Based on information provided on the Salinas Police Department's website, a majority of this year's homicide victims were in their mid 20's and younger. At least a dozen homicides were investigated as gang-related.
August is proving to be a very deadly month with five homicide investigations. The victims range in age from 17 to 35. The most recent happened Tuesday morning in the Laurel Heights neighborhood. Police say neighbors on St. George Drive heard gunshots and called 911. A Hispanic man in his 20's was killed.
Witnesses reported seeing a man with long hair running towards a getaway vehicle. Police say that means it could've been a planned attack.
"It appears to be very obviously gang-related, based upon the person who was shot," Salinas Police Commander Vincent Maiorana said. "So we are investigating that. We have detectives on scene looking at that. And we also have detectives working on yesterday's homicide as well."
On Monday, a 35-year-old man was found shot multiple times in an alley off of Gabilan Street in Central Salinas. He died at the scene.
Police say their hands are full with these investigations and other calls are taking less priority.
"Somebody who gets involved in a traffic collision, somebody who calls 911 because they have an issue at their home, they have to wait because we are here dealing with this," Maiorana said. "And we are so short staffed and at minimum staffing every day that we definitely need the public's help in dealing with the gang violence here in Salinas."
Brian Contreras, the executive director of Second Chance Youth Program, said the city's gang problem has gotten worse over the years. His organization once had a street outreach program, where staff would meet with young kids. However when the money ran out, so did the outreach effort. He now focuses on kids in the classroom, teaching them leadership and accountability.
"What we're doing now is working counseling with the kids, working in groups with the kids in high schools and elementary schools and the community, that's it," Contreras said.
He went on to say not only were more police officers were needed, but the department needs to retain the ones they already have. And while he applauds the city of Salinas' new outreach program announced this week, he believes it should've been launched sooner.
"No matter what gets put into place right now, it's not going to have an impact for at least six months," Contreras said. "It's going to take a long time. What we should've done is a year ago, start addressing it then instead of addressing it now."
Neighbors in the Laurel Heights neighborhood, where the most recent homicide happened, are taking steps themselves. Longtime resident Royce Starr said they've created a committee that works with the city to keep the area clean. They're now talking about ways to stay safe.
"We're all talking about being more vigilant, looking over our shoulders, watching what's going on, so we're pretty close that way," Starr said.
But not everyone feels that way. Police know some residents are afraid to speak out in fear of retaliation. They want to remind people, they can report tips anonymously because they want a tipster's information, not their name.
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ORIGINAL POST: After a rash of recent homicides, Salinas is on pace to exceed last year's record number of homicides.
In 2015, there were 40 homicides in Salinas. So far in 2016, there have been 23 -- five in August and two in the past 24 hours -- putting the city ahead of last year's homicide rate.
KION's Mariana Hicks went to the scene of Tuesday morning's fatal shooting on St. George Drive to speak with police and members of the community about the escalating violence. Look for her report tonight at 5 and 6 p.m..