As San Rafael police continue to investigate a mafia-style shooting Saturday at a downtown restaurant — the fifth gunshot victim in the city in 11 weeks — authorities said those shootings are really just the tip of the iceberg.
In addition, the police department has been coping with a surge of other violent crimes over the past year, including stabbings, attempted shootings, beatings, machete and bottle attacks, even an assault with a pair of bicycle handlebars.
Police Chief Diana Bishop acknowledged Monday that the department is being bombarded with violent crime cases, and if the trend continues it will drain resources from other work on quality-of-life issues and the mentally ill.
TWO CENTS 03/04/14
Are you worried about escalating violence in San Rafael?
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"From my 29 years (in police work), I think the number of serious incidents in a short amount of time is unprecedented for me," said Bishop, who spent most of her career at the Santa Clara Police Department before coming to San Rafael in 2011.
The latest shooting occurred during a karaoke event early Saturday morning at Pa's Mexican and Filipino Cuisine on B Street. The restaurant sits in the core of downtown San Rafael — less than a block from Fourth Street and about two blocks from City Hall.
Police said a Hispanic man in a hooded sweatshirt entered the restaurant, walked up to the victim and fired numerous times before running away. Despite the presence of more than 20 people in the restaurant, the occupants were unable to give police a more detailed description of the gunman.
The 31-year-old gunshot victim was taken to Marin General Hospital in very critical condition. He was in stable but serious condition on Monday, said police spokeswoman Margo Rohrbacher.
The investigations unit worked on the case through the weekend but has not announced an arrest or a suspect. Sgt. Michael Vergara, a supervisor of the unit, said detectives were still investigating Monday whether the attack was gang-related.
The shooting was not even the only major crime that night in the city, which has a population of about 58,000. While police were immersed in the restaurant investigation, they received a report of an assault and robbery in the Canal neighborhood that seriously injured the victim.
The police department took the unusual step of asking the Marin County Sheriff's Office to step in and investigate the case. No arrests have been reported.
The shooting victim at Pa's restaurant was the fifth in San Rafael since Dec. 13. The other four cases occurred in the Canal area and are suspected to involve gangs.
But police said the violent crimes over the past year, while often gang-related, are not exclusively so. Some involved robberies or domestic violence or prostitution, and many were outside the Canal area.
The city has also seen several significant arrests, including Cameron Weaver and Ruben Torres, attempted murder suspects in a gang-related shooting, and Christopher Wootton, the serial bank robbery suspect who allegedly pulled a gun on police in Terra Linda.
In a response to an inquiry from the Marin Independent Journal on Monday, the police department provided a list of assaults and murder attempts since March 12, 2013. The roster includes 10 shootings and seven stabbings.
Bishop said the lack of fatalities is a credit to the staff at Marin General Hospital.
Bishop said the recent flurry of shootings has prompted the department to escalate its enforcement efforts and "make life uncomfortable" for criminals and associates. The efforts have included adding staff to the street crimes unit, conducting probation compliance checks and asking other law enforcement agencies for help.
But she said the moves could come at a cost to the police department's other programs, including its much publicized campaign to address public nuisance crimes in the downtown area. She has already reassigned an officer who specializes in handling the mentally ill to the investigations unit.
"Hopefully we'll be getting back to normal," Bishop said. "Obviously violent crime trumps everything else."