A "disturbing'' increase in gang-related violent crime has hit San Diego in the first 6 months of this year, much of it involving the use of largely untraceable "ghost guns.".
According to data released Wednesday by the San Diego Police Department, the city has seen a 129% increase in gang-related shootings since Jan. 1, 2021, compared to the same time period last year, when we were in the midst of the pandemic lockdowns.
During the 6-month period, the SDPD has recovered more than 1,000 guns as part of criminal investigations -- nearly 20% of them weapons assembled from kits and lacking serial numbers, making them difficult to link to the criminals who made use of them.
To put that number into perspective, the SDPD seized 211 ghost guns in all of 2020, and 78 in 2019. The police department told NBC 7 at the end of last month that they were on track to confiscate about 430 of the untraceable firearms by the end of 2021.
"There has been a disturbing surge of violent crimes in our city,'' department spokesman Lt. Adam Sharki said in a press release. "All too often, these crimes involve gang violence and the use of firearms.''
Over the last two weeks alone, police said 17 violent crimes or suspected crimes have happened in San Diego -- from homicides and attempted homicides to the illegal discharging of a firearm.
"SDPD is working hard to stop further violence by collaborating with its longstanding community partners,'' Sharki said. "SDPD is also conducting proactive patrols and investigations focusing on violent crime, gang violence and getting illegal guns off the street.''
NBC 7 looked into the increase of gang-related violence in San Diego, through the eyes of a former member of a street gang.
Michael Singletary and his brother, Dereck Peppers, were both in the 59 Brims gang out of Oceanview. The brothers got out of the gang but Peppers did not escape the violence.
Peppers was killed 10 years ago at a liquor store; he was caught in a shootout between rival gangs, collateral damage in the street life he had thought he had left behind.
Singletary told NBC 7 his brother’s death hurt deeply – and, a decade later – still hurts.
“My brother had a big heart and the neighborhood loved him,” Singletary said. “He had no kids, so the kids in the neighborhood were his kids.”
The pandemic could have much to do with the spike in local, gang-related crimes.
San Diego District Summer Stephan said closed schools and unemployed young adults are contributing factors.
“Increased free time kind of leading to all this activity – it’s hard to know, but it is happening and it is really having an impact on innocent lives in San Diego,” Stephan told NBC 7.
Stephan said the current gun laws cannot protect us from ghost guns.
“While we put all these checks and balances and waiting periods in place and looking at people’s records and whether they have a mental health commitment – that does not exist with ghost guns,” Stephan said. “And gangs have fully figured that out.”
The DA said the community can play an important role in curbing gang violence being the eyes and ears of police.
Singletary’s solution is the message he shares with every young person he mentors through his organization, Overcoming Gangs.
“The most important thing these kids have to realize is they have a future,” he added. “They have a positive future.”
The DA said more than 100 ghost guns were used in assault and murders in San Diego since 2019 and that number continues to rise.
Department officials urge anyone with information about any of the listed cases to call San Diego County Crime Stoppers at (888) 580-8477 or contact the agency online at sdcrimestoppers.org. Tipsters may remain anonymous and could be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000.