Photo: Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden and other officials, as well as county and city outreach and public health workers, spoke with several housed and unhoused residents Thursday morning in south Stockon. (Cassie Dickman/Contributor)
Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden joined outreach workers this week to spread the word among the city’s homeless population about a possible serial killer whose victims have included unhoused Stocktonians.
But McFadden also wanted homeless residents to understand they are valued community members.
“To know that I care about them as much as I care about anyone else in the city,” McFadden said. “I’m their chief as well.”
Stockton police confirmed last month that the city may have a serial killer on its hands.
Seven shootings — six in Stockton and one in Oakland — since April of 2021 are believed to be connected, due to both ballistics data and the general circumstances of how the crimes occured, police officials said. All the victims, six of whom died, were shot during the night or early morning while alone in dimly lit areas lacking any camera surveillance.
Those killed were identified by police as all men — five Hispanic and one white — with an average age of 42. The only female victim, described as a Black woman from Stockton, is also the only surviving victim. And while some of the victims lived in the area they were found, more than half (four out of seven) were homeless.
The chief joined city and county outreach and public health workers who are part of Stockton’s Homeless Outreach Team, also known as a HOT Team, in a sort of walkabout through several areas where, in addition to the support and medical services typically offered to the homeless each week by the teams, police handed out informational flyers about the city’s possible serial killer and safety tips in both Spanish and English.
“We want the message out to our encampment areas, to where they don’t have phone computers or anything else, that ‘Hey, we’re aware of this, we’re looking out for you. We serve your community as well,’” McFadden said.
McFadden spent about two hours talking with homeless individuals living in encampments throughout south Stockton Thursday morning.
Officers don’t go out with the HOT Team every week but the department has officers that patrol the area regularly and get to know the city’s homeless residents, McFadden said, describing the joint effort Thursday as an example of modern policing.
“This is policing now,” McFadden said. “Because we don’t know the next time we might see someone, we’ve got to have everyone at the table at that moment.”
Working with the homeless takes on a personal meaning for McFadden. His father was a homeless military veteran lived in an encampment in San Jose.
“My dad lived in one and my dad died in one,” McFadden said. “I get the challenges, but we have to keep trying. And even with my dad, we kept trying. And some will want the help at some point and some will be comfortable in the environment they’re in. We just have to be supportive, whichever way they choose to go.”
McFadden conceded that the city’s homeless are more likely to be in danger but said that no Stockton resident should let down their guard.
“I think we all need to be safe. We all need to reduce the likelihood of us being a victim,” McFadden said. “And we’ve been pushing out strong messages on how to reduce that from occurring.”
In the wake of learning a possible serial killer may be operating in Stockton, McFadden said police have adjusted patrols, with the department’s special operations unit “working through the night,” and increasing communication in all of the city’s different communities, including specifically doing outreach with the city’s Spanish-speaking residents through local churches and Spanish radio.
Police will also continue to work with the community to solve this string of related cases, lauding the help the department has received from both Stocktonians and other law enforcement agencies.
“Our community members have been incredible. We’re getting so many tips on a daily basis,” McFadden said, also noting that the department will be working with its homeless residents as well. “Incredible cases have been solved from our partnerships in the encampments.”
McFadden understands all Stocktinians are afraid right now, such as with Halloween and children out trick-or-treating, but he reminded that there’s strength in numbers.
“Do we need to pause our lives? No,” McFadden said. “But I think we need to be more alert and have more situational awareness.”