SACRAMENTO -- The state Department of Justice released the annual "Homicide in California 2010" report showing the rate of homicides per 100,000 people decreased 7.8 percent from 2009 to 2010. The number of homicides declined from 1,970 in 2009 to 1,809 in 2010.
At the same time, the homicide clearance rate, or percentage of reported crimes that have been solved, has increased for the fifth consecutive year.
This year's rate of 63.8 percent is the highest since 2001.
The report, released Friday, also includes data about the death penalty, arrest rates, police officers killed in the line of duty and justifiable homicides.
Drawing on statistics from the past 10 years, the report paints a picture of steadily decreasing violent crime rates across California.
Rates of homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault declined across the board over the past decade. Taken together, violent crime decreased by more than 22 percent from 2001 to 2010.
"Nobody has a solid explanation as to why, but it is happening," said Dan Macallaire, executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco. "Even as we have more immigration, more diversification of the population and increasing poverty rates, these crime rates are declining faster than anybody thought."
However, several Bay Area counties provided some notable exceptions. In Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo and Solano counties, the homicide rate increased from 2001 to 2010, in some cases dramatically. In Solano County, for instance, the number of homicides jumped from 10 per 100,000 residents to 33, more than tripling in 10 years.
But other counties saw sizable declines in homicide rates. Santa Clara and San Francisco counties both followed the statewide trend, with San Francisco recording a 5.6 percent decrease.
San Francisco's decline may be at least partly attributable to its use of local alternatives to state-run incarceration policies.
According to an August 2011 Policy Brief from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, San Francisco's "larger than average decline in crime indicates local nonincarceration and alternative policies for nonserious offenders are effective."
The two counties with the highest homicide rate were Monterey and Merced counties, with 10 homicides per 100,000 each. Placer County, with a rate of 0.6, had the lowest.
Most of the homicide victims, 80.3 percent, were male, 44.5 percent were Hispanic, 29.6 percent were black, 18.2 percent were white and 7.4 percent were categorized as other.
Thirty-six percent of California's homicides were classified as gang-related. Slightly fewer, 35.4 percent, were "the result of an argument."
The overwhelming majority of all homicides, 71.2 percent, involved a firearm.
At the close of 2010, there were 709 people on death row in California.
There were also four police officers "feloniously killed" during 2010, roughly equaling the 10-year average. Since 2001, 45 police officers have been killed in the line of duty.
To view the "Homicide in
California 2010" report, go