Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police investigated 42 homicides in 2014, the lowest number since police began keeping track of uniform crime statistics in 1977.
Police and prosecutors say the drop is because of an increased focus on arresting and prosecuting the city’s most violent offenders. But criminologists say the United States and most of the rest of the world have seen killings decline in the last decade.
Detroit and Chicago are on pace to record their lowest homicide totals since the 1960s. Earlier this month, police in Birmingham, Ala., said homicides were down 25 percent.
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“City after city has found their homicides go down significantly, so join the club,” said James Alan Fox, a criminology professor at Northeastern University in Boston.
Still, 42 homicides is a more than a 30 percent drop from 2013 and a sustained drop since Rodney Monroe took over as chief. Before 2014, the lowest recorded homicide total was in 1983, when police investigated 44 killings.
The decline comes as other large cities in North Carolina – including Raleigh and Greensboro – saw homicide totals increase or remain static.
Monroe said the reduced homicide total was because of better cooperation with the community in solving and preventing crimes. He also said the department has focused on getting guns off the street.
“It all centers around the efforts of the community and the police just working much more closely together. There’s an increased level of trust among police and citizens,” Monroe said.
Mayor Dan Clodfelter said the city’s budget reflects its commitment to public safety. More than 43 percent of Charlotte’s general fund – which covers core services – goes to police. Drops in homicides are in part the result of better relationships between police and community members, he said.
Monroe, he said, “has been very attentive about the need to strengthen the relationship between the police force and the community generally – even before the events happened in New York and Missouri.”
Some areas of Charlotte continued to struggle with killings. More than one in four killings happened in the Metro police division, a 13.3-square-mile cluster of poor, working-class neighborhoods along Beatties Ford Road. Despite declines in other parts of the city, officers in Metro investigated 11 homicides in 2014, the same number as a year earlier.
Racial disparities among homicide victims deepened in 2014 – most victims and suspects were black. In Charlotte, 35 percent of the population is black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But 76 percent of homicide victims were black.
Police have pointed to tactics that helped lower the number of killings, including an increase in the number of patrol officers and a stepped-up effort by police and prosecutors to arrest habitual criminals and secure tougher sentences.
The department has also used crime data to determine where it’s best for officers to patrol, and a real-time crime center helps officers respond faster to violent crimes. The center uses the department’s technological resources, such as video cameras and license plate readers, to track suspects and solve crimes.
“There’s much greater use of data and analysis of crime patterns in real time so they can strategize based on data, instead of just on a hunch,” Fox said.
District Attorney Andrew Murray said his office and the police department have both focused their efforts on the city’s most violent repeat offenders. He estimated his prosecutors have convicted or made plea deals with nearly 80 habitual offenders this year.
“When you are putting habitual offenders in jail … we can deter them from escalating in the crimes they do,” he said.
Police may also be benefiting from larger nationwide crime trends, such as a decades-long decline in violent crime across the United States and a decrease in the number of crimes associated with crack cocaine. That drug decimated America’s inner cities in the 1990s, when Charlotte had its highest homicide totals.
Fox said several factors are contributing to falling homicide rates, including increased incarceration of violent felons and advances in medical technology that save the lives of potential homicide victims. Carolinas Medical Center is a level-one trauma center staffed with trauma surgeons 24 hours a day.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, the homicide rate worldwide has declined by double digits except in the Caribbean and Latin America, according to a report by the United Nations.
City Council member Claire Fallon, who chairs the council’s community safety committee, said the community also deserves credit for reporting criminals and cooperating with police.
“I think it goes hand in hand with the community trusting the police more and the community wanting to live in a safe place,” she said. She also said the community has prioritized adding police officers. “You need more police just as a deterrent. Crime is not always going to go down.”