The fatal shooting of Jonathan Cauthen brings the number of homicides in Charlotte this year to 67. That was the total in the city for 2016. Reporter Sarah Delia, who has been tracking homicides, spoke to All Things Considered host Mark Rumsey about what patterns have emerged and what police say is contributing to the growing number.
MARK RUMSEY: We are again discussing the increased rate of homicides in Charlotte. We’re getting closer to the end of the year, what trends have you noticed?
SARAH DELIA: The biggest trends we’ve been able to note is when it comes to race and gender eight of the victims were white, seven were Hispanic, 52 of the victims were black, 56 of the victims were male. Overwhelmingly, this increased violence is affecting the African American community. And that is very similar to the break down we see in last year’s victims.
RUMSEY: Does CMPD have any theories as to why that is?
DELIA: This week I spoke with Captain Chris Dozier, who supervises the homicide division, and he says CMPD acknowledges that historically African-American males are the largest group of victims when it comes to homicide. As to why that is, CMPD isn’t sure. But he did say police are trying to address the issue by being more present in different neighborhoods around the city.
CAPTAIN CHRIS DOZIER: We’ve increased patrols and had officers working overtime. We’ve been working with the community trying to get community leaders involved, church groups, schools…
DELIA: They did increase patrols earlier this summer and will continue to have beat cops get out of their cars and walk their beats which was an initiative started this summer.
RUMSEY: Are there areas in the city that are experiencing more homicides than others?
DELIA: A majority have occurred northeast and northwest of Upton with handful in south Charlotte.
RUMSEY: How many of the homicide cases are still open?
DELIA: When I spoke to Captain Dozier earlier this week, he said about 61 percent of the cases are closed, leaving 39 percent open. Although there are some homicides that occurred this year occurred where the victim did not know the perpetrator, Dozier says for the most part, victims and the suspects had some kind of relationship and knew each other.
Dozier said the total clearance rate for homicides last year was about 67 percent.
RUMSEY: Listeners may wonder why we are seeing an increase in the rate, does CMPD have any thoughts about that?
DELIA: CMPD is sticking to similar language from earlier this year, that social media is creating hostile communication between people. Here’s Captain Dozier again.
DOZIER: I do think it makes it worse. It brings things to a whole other level of anger and frustration by the time it comes to a head, violence seems to be the only answer and that’s how they deal with it.
DELIA: This increase can’t be solely blamed on social media, but what he’s saying is that people’s emotions are already high from social media interactions. When they meet in person, a rational conversation can be tough. Social media interactions are for sure another thing to note with a new generation and how they communicate and how that impacts homicides.
Not to disregard our current homicide count but to give some perspective, the number of homicides did spike in 1993 in Charlotte with over 120 murders, likely linked to the crack epidemic. Although our current homicide count isn’t that high, it’s understandable that people are getting nervous as the rate increases.
RUMSEY: When you look at the female victims on the timeline, are there any trends you see there?
DELIA: There are 10 women on the timeline and one transgender woman. Several of them are victims of domestic violence. Two that come to mind are Heidi May Morton, she was a stay at home mother, her husband is her accused killer. And more recently, UNC Charlotte assistant professor Jeannine Skinner was murdered. Her accused killer was a man she was believed to be in a relationship with.
RUMSEY: And finally Sarah, you’ve been keeping track of these homicide victims for a while now, what is the significance of us reaching 67 homicides at this point in the year?
DELIA: I do think it is significant that we have had 67 homicides this year because it’s only September. Sixty-seven was the total number we had in all of last year and that last murder occurred in December.
Anytime someone dies from violence, it’s of course a tragedy. What we’ve set out to do with this timeline is to put a name with a face and make sure these people aren’t just a number.
Here’s what Captain Dozier said when reflecting on the increased rate:
DOZIER: It’s very important to us to make a difference to bring this rate down. Where we are this year we can’t change that but we can make it better. It’s all about understanding what is going on that is different than this time last year. And making those changes to address those problems and issues that we find.
DELIA: So we’ll keep tracking these victims and we’ll be following up with CMPD to see what changes they make.