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This California County Has the Murder Capital! You Won’t Believe It!

California usually conjures up ideas of Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and Disneyland. However, there is a grim reality in the Golden State where several counties are dealing with extremely high rates of homicide. Among these, Monterey County, a stunningly beautiful coastal region known for its agriculture, historic attractions, and natural charm, is tucked in central California and stands out for its coastal beauty. Nonetheless, the Violence Policy Center (VPC) reports that among Californians aged 10 to 24, it has the highest homicide rate.

What Distinguishes Monterey County?

Approximately 60% of the 440,000 people who live in Monterey County identify as Hispanic or Latino. Salinas is the center of the county and is where most of the killings that occur there occur.

Since the 1960s, Salinas has had a problematic history of gang violence, primarily from opposing Mexican American youth organizations called the Nortenos and Surenos. These groups participate in illegal activities including drug trafficking and extortion and are connected to bigger prison gangs like Nuestra Familia and the Mexican Mafia.

Recent years have seen a rise in gang-related violence in Salinas as a result of socioeconomic issues such social alienation, unemployment, poverty, and educational inequality. Salinas’ poverty rate, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau, is 16.5%, higher than the state average of 11.8%.

Compared to the state average of 6.2%, Salinas has a higher unemployment rate of 9.7% as of November 2023. Its high school graduation rate in 2022 was 82.9%, which was lower than the 86.6% average for the state. Too few opportunities push many of Salinas’ youth toward gangs in search of security, acceptance, and stability in their finances.

What Are the Consequences?

The effects of the high homicide rate in Monterey County are felt by the families and communities that are impacted by the violence. The VPC reports that in 2022, there were 35 killings in the county among those aged 10 to 24. This represents the highest rate in the state, at 23.8 per 100,000.

The majority of the victims and offenders were young boys of Hispanic heritage who were involved in gang activity. According to VPC estimates, the expenses associated with a California homicide total about $1.6 million and include lost productivity, criminal justice, and medical costs. The societal cost of the murders in Monterey County in 2022 was estimated to be $56 million.

Residents’ mental health suffers as a result of the violence; children and young people in particular suffer from trauma and terror. 54% of youngsters in Salinas saw or experienced violence in their communities, according to a University of California, Berkeley research, and 38% of them showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Violence exposure has been linked to poorer academic results, higher rates of absence from school, and higher risks of substance misuse and depression.

What Solutions Are Proposed?

Although there isn’t a simple remedy for the homicide problem in Monterey County, there are a number of efforts that try to reduce and prevent violence. A combination of neighborhood organizations known as the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace (CASP) works to address the underlying causes of violence and provide constructive alternatives for young people.

CASP has put into practice tactics like the Youth Violence Prevention Task Force, which unites efforts across various agencies, the Community Safety Division, which offers outreach and intervention to at-risk youth and families, and the Ceasefire approach, which targets violent gang members with social services and incentives to deter violence.

Another project that uses art and culture to engage and empower Salinas adolescents is the Baktun 12 project, which is run by a nonprofit group. Baktun 12 seeks to establish a secure and creative environment for young people, promoting self-expression, skill development, and cross-cultural relationships through workshops, classes, and events in a range of artistic forms. Additionally, the project promotes neighborhood harmony and social justice.


Monterey County faces a serious homicide problem in spite of its beautiful scenery and diverse population, particularly among young people. One of the main causes of violence is still gang activity, which is exacerbated by socioeconomic issues. Residents’ lives are negatively affected for a long time by the aftermath of this violence, especially those of children and young people who deal with trauma, fear, and lost chances.

But despite these difficulties, there are signs of resiliency and hope. Diverse individuals and groups work together to prevent and lessen violence while providing constructive alternatives for young people. Even though Monterey County has the unfortunate reputation of being the murder capital, it has the potential to become a haven of security and tranquility.

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