RICHMOND (CBS SF) -- Richmond is on track for another year of record low crime rates. It's a significant step for a city once plagued with crime using a strategy that's turned into a Bay Area success story.
Kickball at the park may look insignificant, but's it's a sign of progress in Richmond.
"Used to be a lot of gun violence and children were afraid to come outside," said community activist Donnell Jones. He says that kids playing outside is a better indicator of change than crime statistics.
Last year, Richmond saw a 33 year low in homicides. There were 16 last year and they're on pace to beat that record with eight homicides reported this year -- but investigators say two of those were in self-defense.
"We're very please to see this downward trend in violent crime," said Richmond Police Lt. Mark Gagan. "We really feel it's the people that worked with us."
Richmond police credit a crime fighting strategy known as Operation Ceasefire and their community partners in turning a once dangerous city into a serious of safe neighborhoods.
"We were making a whole lot of noise, but how fearful is a chihuahua?" said Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church Rev. Alvin Bernstine. "But when you connect with law enforcement and have their commitment with it, well then you almost become a German Shepard or Pitbull. You know, not just barking, but there's some bite."
Bernstine says both sides needed each other to turn Richmond around.
Police identified 75 of the most dangerous people in town. They talked to each one and gave them options.
"First message is, you know, you're no longer anonymous," Bernstine said.
"We want to give you a message of hope, a message of love and a message of peace," Jones said. "That's why it had to come from the community."
"The blunt term for the Ceasefire group is the carrot or the stick," Gagan said. "The carrot is the incentive that we will help you succeed."
From job training, to even giving them money. On the other hand, the stick would be jail time.
Police admit only a small number took the carrot, but most of them knowing they were on the radar, stopped causing more problems.
"We're doing something now," Jones said. "We're going into the parole office and doing one on one individual outreach to guys on parole."
Police say their strong relationship with the community and clergy is why ceasefire works. They say it took about two to three years to build the trust. And they're now seeing the results.
Church leaders are happy to see crime dip, but they are concerned what could bring the crime back. They want to focus on broken families, a lack of education and high unemployment rate to be successful in the long-term.
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