CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The yearly number of killings in Charlotte keeps falling.
In 2012, Charlotte-Mecklenburg recorded its lowest number of homicides in 24 years – 52 as the year ended Monday night. The number of homicides has dropped each year since 2010.
In the four years before Rodney Monroe was appointed police chief, Charlotte averaged roughly 82 homicides a year. Since Monroe took over in 2009, police have investigated about 56 a year.
But some police divisions still struggle with killings. The Central Division that includes uptown Charlotte saw just one homicide in 2012. But two divisions that border uptown – Metro and North Tryon – accounted for more than a third of the city’s killings in 2012.
“It’s gratifying to see these numbers continue to trend downward, although we still consider the loss of even one life (to be) one too many,” Monroe said in a statement issued through a spokesman. One local activist expressed similar thoughts.
“I’m still not happy because 52 is still too many, but any decrease we have from year to year is progress,” said Judy Williams, the founder of Mothers of Murdered Offspring, a group that holds candlelight memorials and marches through neighborhoods after killings. “It’s not success, but it’s progress.”
Police say several tactics have helped lower the number of homicides, including an increase in the number of patrol officers and a stepped-up focus by police and prosecutors on taking habitual criminals off the street.
Police may also be benefitting from larger nationwide crime trends, like a general decline in violent crime across the United States and a decrease in the number of crimes associated with crack cocaine, which pushed homicides to more than 122 in Charlotte-Mecklenburg in 1993. Crime experts also say improved emergency room care in recent decades has made people more likely to survive gunshot wounds.
District Attorney Andrew Murray said his office is working more closely with police to go after homicide suspects, but also is targeting the habitual offenders he says commit the bulk of crime in Mecklenburg County.
In 2009, for example, his office’s Habitual Felon Team had four prosecutors. Now, there are seven, Murray says, and an eighth will join the team later this month.
He said he believes locking up more habitual offenders will eventually help lower homicides and other violent crimes.
“If an offender shows they can’t stick to societal norms, they’re off the streets for 5, 7, 9 years, and that’s 5, 7, 9 years where they can’t commit a crime.”
While killings dropped overall in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, two divisions that border uptown Charlotte accounted for a high number of homicides.
The Metro Division, which includes communities along Beatties Ford Road in northwest Charlotte, had 10, including the last three killings of 2012. The North Tryon Division, which starts just above Interstate 277, had nine.
The police department did not make the captains of those divisions available for comment.
Both areas have struggled with crime for years. In 2010, the Metro Division had 18 homicides, nearly a third of the city’s total that year. The North Tryon Division is where police say groups of drug dealers recruited homeless people to serve as deal-brokers and go-betweens.
Herbert Weathers, the former president of the Enderly Park neighborhood association in the Metro Division, resigned from the association in frustration two years ago, after the division’s 18 homicides. He said it seems like the city is becoming safer, but his community is missing out on the crime reductions.
“Most of the crime is over here on the west side,” he said. “The reason why – it’s where all the poor black people are.”
Police have increased their presence after crime spurts in the Metro Division, and in 2009, the division built a new headquarters on Beatties Ford Road to establish a higher profile in the area.
Still, Weathers said, police have been unable to find a solution to long-term trouble spots.
Confounding to reforming
Charlotte’s youngest victim in 2012 was 6-month-old Keyoni Boderick, a “happy, smiling, playful baby” whose grandmother affectionately called her “my chocolate bunny.” Her father has been charged with her killing.
The oldest was 71-year-old Mamie Caldwell Brown, described by neighbors in her northwest Charlotte community as “the nicest lady in the neighborhood.” Her husband, who had previously served time on Florida’s death row, is charged with her killing.
Some of the homicides still confound police and family members. The motive in Kydaryune Curry’s killing was perceived disrespect, police say. The 17-year-old was gunned down near his northern Mecklenburg home a day after police say he insulted another teen in front of a girl they knew. Five teens were arrested in connection with his killing.
Khalil Cousart, 13, was shot by his 16-year-old friend, who police say was shooting at someone else.
On a hot morning in July, a man cutting through a park found the body of Hawa Gabiddon, a pregnant 17-year-old. Police have not arrested anyone in connection with her killing.
Some of the homicides sparked calls for reform, like the killing of Danielle Watson, who was stabbed to death in what police described as a robbery by a cook of the Flying Biscuit Café where she worked. Police began requiring 911 call-takers to confirm addresses after a dispatcher sent a responding officer to the wrong location.
Victims mostly black men
The deaths cut across every racial and socioeconomic group, but some trends emerged:
• The Central Division, which includes uptown and Southend, recorded one homicide, the fewest of any division. A swath of south Charlotte extending south between Randolph and Providence roads was virtually untouched by homicides.
• Again, the people most likely to be killed were black men. Nearly 3 out of 5 of the homicide victims were black men. Seventeen of the victims were black men under 30 – nearly a third of all victims.
Blacks make up about 32 percent of Mecklenburg’s population but comprised more than 71 percent of the homicide victims. Police say 37 of the victims were blacks, 10 were white and five were Hispanic.
• Police have cleared 75 percent of the homicides committed in 2012. That’s down from last year’s clearance rate of 89 percent (recorded at the end of the year), but higher than the national average of around 65 percent.
• Seven homicides in Mecklenburg County were linked to domestic violence, according to victim advocates, up from four a year ago.
Domestic violence advocates believe that could be affected by the economic downturn, as experts believe victims of domestic violence are less likely to leave in a sour economy.
Mike Sexton, a spokesman for the Mecklenburg County Women’s Commission, said victim advocates are disappointed by the increase but realize preventing domestic violence-related homicides is a tough task for officers.
“The challenge is they can’t put boots (at) every front door,” he said.
Still, he said, police amended their practices for responding to domestic violence calls after the killing of Jennifer Smith the day before Halloween.
Smith called police saying her ex-boyfriend was outside. Officers came and searched but didn’t find the man. A few hours later, Smith and her boyfriend were killed. Her ex, Jacquece Artavian Forrest, is charged with two counts of murder.
Now, when police respond to a domestic violence situation, they provide the woman with information about the battered woman’s shelter, Sexton said.