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Homicides decline in Charlotte-Mecklenburg

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
cwootson@charlotteobserver.com

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Nearly six months into 2013, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police say they have investigated 21 homicides, three fewer than they had investigated at the same point last year when killings in the city hit a three-decade low.

The number of homicides in Charlotte-Mecklenburg 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.

Monroe told a group of business leaders last week that officers place an emphasis on making an arrest within the first 48 hours after a killing. Experts say the trail begins to go cold after the second day of a homicide. But Monroe said he also believes that many killings are retaliation for previous acts of violence and that locking up a murder suspect stops that person from becoming a victim.

“The sooner that you can identify and apprehend the individual responsible for a homicide, the greater chance you can prevent another homicide so that (the suspect doesn’t) become a victim of a homicide themselves.”

Patrick Cannon, the chairman of the City Council’s community safety committee, said the city has also seen more people step forward, giving police tips to help solve or prevent crimes, which has affected the homicide rate.

One example, he said, is a tip line that allows people to report anonymously that a convicted felon possesses a firearm. Cannon said the program has resulted in charges being brought against dozens of felons.

“What I’m hearing from citizens is that they are tired,” Cannon said. “They’re tired of allowing things to just happen and not be engaged in stepping forward. They want to participate more.”

Police have cleared 76 percent of this year’s homicides. The national clearance rate hovers around 65 percent.

The decline in homicides has been a trademark of Monroe’s tenure in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

Fewest killings in decades

For many of those years, the city saw crime percentages drop by double digits. But last year, crime began to creep up – violent crime increased 9.5 percent in 2012 compared to the year before. Property crime was up 1.8 percent. Criminologists and others wondered aloud how much lower the crime rate could go.

But the number of homicides has continued to drop. The 52 killings in 2012 was the lowest number police had seen in three decades.

Even with lower numbers, familiar trends have begun to emerge among this year’s homicide victims. Most were black males in their 20s and 30s, a statistic that has been consistent in Charlotte-Mecklenburg for decades.

Police say the overwhelming majority of homicides were incidents in which the suspect and victim knew one another. Just one homicide this year has been the result of domestic violence, according to statistics from the Domestic Violence Advocacy Council.

The oldest victim was 88-year-old Dorothy Gregg, who was found dead in her west Charlotte home. A neighbor has been charged with murder and robbery in connection with her killing.

Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson
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