By CBSLA Staff

SANTA ANA (CBSLA) – Santa Ana police and political leaders Thursday sought to assure the public it was tackling a rash of violent crime spurred in part by illegal gambling businesses.

“There’s been an increase in some of the rates of homicides versus last year,” said Santa Ana Mayor Vicente Sarmiento. “We’ve had eight in this first quarter and we had one in the same time period last year, so it was important that (Police Chief David Valentin) address the source of that and the ways he’s going to address that.”

READ MORE: Hot Dog On A Stick's Offering 75-Cent Dogs On April 24 For 75th Anniversary

Sarmiento, City Council members, and Valentin held a news conference on the rash of violence Thursday.

Half of the eight homicides this year were gang-related, Valentin said. Three were related to the illegal gambling establishments and one was a case of domestic violence.

The city has also responded to 37 shootings, which had seen a continual decline since 2017, the chief said.

“Various types of crime in and around illegal gambling dens have drastically impacted the quality of life both in our neighborhoods and in our business districts,” said Valentin.

Valentin’s department launched “Operation Community First” to stem the tide of violence by increasing engagement with residents, investigative resources, and code enforcement.

Police have seized 71 illegal weapons so far this year.

Police have identified 41 illegal gambling sites and shut down 36 of them, police said.

“So far they’ve done an effective job,” the mayor said. “The problem is they pop up and they open up under the premise of doing business as something else and eventually start using these sites as these casinos.”

Sarmiento said the illegal gaming establishments have been a nuisance in neighboring cities such as Anaheim,  Garden Grove, and Westminster as well.

READ MORE: Beverly Grove Homeless Encampment Cleared, But Residents Say Problems With Crime Have Not Gone Away

“Even though it’s a challenge it’s also an opportunity for us to have a department and city more transparent on information and issues facing the public and also for everyone in the community to see how they can collaborate with police to address issues like this,” Sarmiento said. “We need to take these moments dealing with challenges and turn them into opportunities.”

The homicides this year happened:

– Jan. 2 at 1802 W. 18th St.;

– Jan. 10, 810 S. Townsend St.;

– Jan. 20, 1734 W. First St.;

– Jan. 21, 1047 W. Bishop St.;

– Feb. 6, 1600 W. MacArthur Blvd.;

– Feb. 16, 328 N. Harbor Blvd.;

– Feb. 26, 521 E. Pine St. and;

– March 5, 1426 W. Elder Ave.

MORE NEWS: LA Animal Services Offering Reduced And Waived Fees For Pit Bulls, Cats

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)