A Look Back At 2017 Homicide Trends

Dec 21, 2017

Some of the 2017 homicide victims.
Credit WFAE

For the past year WFAE has been tracking Charlotte’s rising homicide count through an interactive timeline. WFAE’s Sarah Delia discusses the trends and what’s being done to combat the rise in violence.

MARK RUMSEY: Sarah, to give some context, what is our current homicide count and how does that compare to last year?

SARAH DELIA: Our homicide count currently sits at 85, although police believe an 86th occurred early Friday morning in an apparent murder-suicide. This time last year there were 68 homicides—one shy away from the 2016 total. There are currently 31 cases that are still open.

Throughout the year we’ve reported on who these homicide victims who they are, and it’s important to point out that least 69 of the victims are African American and male.

RUMSEY: In past conversations we’ve focused on race and how these victims are primarily African American and male…are there any other trends you noticed?

SARAH: A big one is how domestic violence has played a role in this year’s homicide victims. 18 of the 85 victims were domestic violence-related.

And 38 percent of the suspects in the 67 other homicides have a history of domestic violence, says Sgt. Craig Varnum of CMPD's Domestic Violence Unit.

"Those numbers are consistent with numbers we have seen in studies nationwide. What those numbers tell us is that abusers who commit acts of violence on their intimate partners are not just dangerous to those partners, they are dangerous human beings, they are dangerous to society."
- Sgt. Craig Varnum, CMPD Domestic Violence Unit

MARK: A majority of these homicides involved gun violence. Was that the case for  these 18 homicide victims who suffered from a domestic violence altercation?

SARAH: While some of these cases are still being investigated, it’s safe to say that gun violence played a role in many of them.

"In all most all domestic violence homicides, across the board and nationwide guns are the number one tool."
- Sgt. Craig Varnum, CMPD Domestic Violence Unit

SARAH: Which is why he said officers are trained to ask if there is a gun in the house when they go on a domestic violence call—even if a gun wasn’t an issue or threat in the particular case. If an arrest is made police can seize a gun and in some cases guns can be collected even if a arrest wasn't made.

We should point out that CMPD averages about 35,000 to 39,000 domestic violence calls annually. From that figure, 9,000 of those calls result in a criminal offense report. On average that’s about 25 a day. Another interesting point Varnum made was that anecdotally we think of December and the holiday season as a time of increased domestic violence. Varnum says while there are spikes and drop offs in numbers, year round those numbers stay the same.

MARK: Well what’s being done to combat this this domestic violence problem?

SARAH: CMPD announced earlier this month it would like to open a family justice center that would work with victims of domestic violence. This center would be a place for victims to turn to as they have help navigate the system and Varnum hopes it would be open in Charlotte in a couple of years.

More immediately, they’ve been looking into how domestic violence crimes that involve intimate partners committing acts of violence like strangulation correlates to mass murders. He gave several examples of men who had histories of strangling their wives who went on to commit mass murders, one of which is Devin Patrick Kelly, the man that killed over 20 people in a Texas church earlier this year.

"So the nationwide accrediting body and the folks that started the family justice center movement is an organization called the Alliance for Hope International," Varnum says. "That same organization operates a training body called the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention.

"So they conduct a four-day advance course on how to investigate and identify strangulation cases in an effort to garner more successful prosecutions and convictions because they have determined that these are the most violent domestic violence offenders and if we target them, some pretty remarkable things happen. Domestic violence homicide rates go down, domestic violence aggravated assaults go down, as well as overall aggravated assault rates go down."

SARAH: So members from CMPD, magistrates and medics will be undergoing this training over the summer in the hopes of being able to better identify victims of domestic violence.