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

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Written By Blue & Gold NLR Team





When one thinks of California, images of Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and Disneyland often come to mind. Yet, within the Golden State lies a somber reality, where certain counties grapple with alarmingly high homicide rates. Among these, Monterey County stands out—a region of stunning coastal beauty nestled in central California, renowned for its agriculture, historic sites, and natural charm. However, according to the Violence Policy Center (VPC), it holds the highest homicide rate among 10- to 24-year-olds in California.

What Distinguishes Monterey County?

With a population of around 440,000, Monterey County sees approximately 60% of its residents identifying as Hispanic or Latino. The focal point of the county is Salinas, which accounts for the majority of homicides within its borders.

Salinas has a troubled history of gang violence dating back to the 1960s, stemming from rival Mexican American youth groups like the Nortenos and Surenos. These factions, affiliated with larger prison gangs such as Nuestra Familia and the Mexican Mafia, engage in illicit activities like drug trafficking and extortion.

In recent times, gang-related violence in Salinas has surged due to socioeconomic factors such as poverty, unemployment, educational disparities, and social alienation. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Salinas grapples with a poverty rate of 16.5%, surpassing the state average of 11.8%.

As of November 2023, Salinas faces an unemployment rate of 9.7%, higher than the state average of 6.2%. In 2022, its high school graduation rate stood at 82.9%, falling below the state average of 86.6%. Limited prospects drive many young residents of Salinas towards gangs, seeking belonging, protection, and financial stability.

What Are the Consequences?

The repercussions of Monterey County’s high homicide rate reverberate through families and communities affected by the violence. According to the VPC, the county recorded 35 homicides among 10- to 24-year-olds in 2022, with a rate of 23.8 per 100,000, the highest in the state.

Most victims and perpetrators were young males of Hispanic descent involved in gang activities. VPC estimates suggest that each homicide in California incurs approximately $1.6 million in costs, covering medical, criminal justice, and lost productivity expenses. In 2022, the homicides in Monterey County amounted to a societal cost of about $56 million.

The violence also takes a toll on the mental health of residents, particularly children and youth, who grapple with fear and trauma. A study conducted by the University of California, Berkeley, revealed that 54% of children in Salinas witnessed or experienced violence in their neighborhoods, with 38% exhibiting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Exposure to violence correlated with lower academic performance, increased school absenteeism, and heightened risks of substance abuse and depression.

What Solutions Are Proposed?

There is no quick fix to Monterey County’s homicide problem, but various initiatives aim to prevent and mitigate violence. The Community Alliance for Safety and Peace (CASP), a coalition of local organizations, collaborates to address the root causes of violence and promote positive alternatives for youth.

CASP has implemented strategies like the Ceasefire approach, which targets violent gang members with social services and incentives to deter violence, the Community Safety Division, which provides outreach and intervention to at-risk youth and families, and the Youth Violence Prevention Task Force, which coordinates efforts across multiple agencies.

Another initiative, the Baktun 12 project, led by a nonprofit organization, employs art and culture to empower and engage the youth of Salinas. Through workshops, classes, and events in various artistic mediums, Baktun 12 aims to create a safe and creative space for youth, fostering self-expression, skill development, and cultural connections. The project also advocates for social justice and peace in the community.


Despite its picturesque landscapes and cultural diversity, Monterey County grapples with a significant homicide challenge, especially among its young population. Gang activity, fueled by socioeconomic factors, remains a key driver of violence. The aftermath of this violence leaves enduring negative impacts on the lives of residents, particularly children and youth, who confront fear, trauma, and missed opportunities.

However, amidst these challenges, there are glimmers of hope and resilience. Various groups and individuals collaborate to prevent and reduce violence, offering positive alternatives for youth. While Monterey County may bear the burden of being labeled the “murder capital,” it also possesses the potential to emerge as a beacon of safety and peace.

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