Two homicides in less than 12 hours at the end of the weekend brought Charlotte’s total so far this year to 38.
That’s exactly double the number from early June 2016, and it puts Charlotte on track to reach a higher homicide count this year than at any time besides the crack cocaine epidemic of the early 1990s.
The victims Sunday and Monday were both men. Both were shot in north Charlotte, and police believe both knew their attackers. Those details follow a fairly common pattern — homicide victims in Charlotte are usually male, a gun is the most common weapon by far and more people have been killed in the northern half of the city this year than the southern half.
Random killings are still relatively rare.
“We’re not looking at a lot of cases where you don’t know someone, and they shoot and kill you,” said Capt. Cecil Brisbon, who leads Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s violent crimes division.
Instead, police are paying attention to “the relationship factor,” as Brisbon called it. Ten homicides have involved domestic violence — including Monday morning’s shooting, in which a 63-year-old man is suspected of killing a 24-year-old who lived in the same house. In other cases, police have learned that the victim and suspect had agreed to meet ahead of time. Maybe drugs were supposed to be exchanged, or an argument got out of control.
“It looks like, based on what we’ve seen, that a lot of them are escalation issues,” Brisbon said.
The question, then, is how to avoid escalation — how to get people to communicate, rather than pulling out a gun. Shifting the foundations of how people interact isn’t easy when relationships have already begun, Brisbon said, so police are focusing on working with younger people.
“So three, four, five years from now, these individuals aren’t having the same kinds of problems the kids in the 18, 19, 20 demographic are having now,” Brisbon said.
This summer, the department will host a week-long program called High School Academy, where students can learn about policing and meet officers. Part of the program focuses on team-building, which develops those communication skills that police believe will help cut the homicide rate in the long term.
Young people who’ve already been through the court system might participate in the Arts Empowerment Project, which pays for enrichment programs to redirect teens toward positive outlets.
The department is trying to create a dialogue, Brisbon said, so that officers and young people can get to know each other as individuals. From there, they can talk about conflict resolution, the court system and other issues.
With summer on the way — Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ vacation begins on Friday — the department has taken a close look at where and how officers should be assigned. They’re sending extra officers to locations vulnerable to violent crime, Brisbon said, and a pilot program will place police on foot and bikes around Plaza Midwood and NoDa’s entertainment districts this summer. Police are also trying to reduce the homicide rate by getting guns off the street, Brisbon said — especially illegally obtained guns.
The department will have to cooperate with other groups to end the cycle of violence, Deputy Chief Johnny Jennings said at a news conference after Memorial Day weekend’s four homicides.
“Each person has someone in their family who loves them, who is going to miss them dearly and feels that their life was taken way too early,” he said.