There have been 49 murders in Charlotte in 2017 – more than double the amount compared to this time last year.
In this story, WFAE’s Sarah Delia takes us to an area in North Charlotte where there have been 10 murders this year. She shadowed police officers as they patrolled by car and by foot, and spoke to residents they came across.
Before you start walking the North Tryon beat—you have to drive to the heart of it.
Lt. Michael Abbondanza drives towards a 7-11 that’s on the corner of Sugar Creek and Reagan Dr. It’s an intersection surrounded by rundown motels and fast food restaurants—lots of quick stops for people before they jump up on or off I-85. It’s an area that’s historically had problems with drugs and prostitution.
Abbondanza says covering this area can get to officers.
"Assaults, domestics, people shooting each other or stabbing each other for what you and I would consider to be no good reason," he says. "They are solving differences with guns and knives now instead of hands and fists."
He says it's important to walk this beat because there is more interaction with the public.
Officers Matthew Epolito and Casey Shue head towards a McDonald's parking lot where a group of people are by a car with trash bags of clothes. And they tense up when they see the officers approach them. After an initial moment of tension, the group makes small talk with the cops.
A 28-year-old women who goes by Ash, talks in vague terms about the homicides in the city but does say the uptick in murders is effecting the community.
"I don't understand what's going on with these people down here. They'll take your last dollar from you and look at you and smile," she says. "And then walk past you the same day. So that's kind of scary."
That was a common response. People in the community know homicides are increasing and know it’s a problem and feel uneasy. But no one wants to talk about what’s at the root of it. Maybe it's because they are uncomfortable talking to cops, maybe it’s because they don’t know the reason why, maybe it’s a little bit of both.
At the end of the conversation the group thanks the police for stopping and tells them to stay safe.
Officer Shue says the number of homicides is frustrating.
"As our numbers keep rising it makes us feel defeated in what we’re doing, if it's is it not enough or what more could we do," she said.
Which is part of the reason they’re out walking.
The officers approach two males on the sidewalk on Reagan Drive. Jerry White is wearing a white tank top and jeans and sits in a wheelchair. The guy next time just wants to go by Rocky, the officers are familiar with the two.
Rocky is a young guy with small scars on his face. He’s skeptical that cops walking the North Tryon beat will make that big of a difference. And he points out having more cops in the area is bad for his business—although he doesn’t say exactly what his business is. Plus, crime will still happen he says, it might just get pushed to another neighborhood.
When asked about the increase in homicides Jerry jumps in, and then Rocky who’s more vocal.
"People worry about it everyday," said Rocky. But at the same time you stay out of other people business and you keep your nose clean and you don't have to worry about any smoke coming your way."
The rest of the patrol includes stopping at gas stations, walking the parking lot of a plasma center, and banning a man who from a restaurant he’s repeatedly disturbed.
Back in the car with Lt. Abbondanza, he refers to the two beat cops as “young jedis.” In his more senior role, his job is to make sure they have everything they need to stay safe. The most important tool he says pointing to his head is the one they already have.
"Going to these violent crimes those kind of things...I don't necessarily want them... they don't need to be emotional, they need to do their job which is make sure we're safe, make sure everyone else is safe," Abbondanza says.
He points out it doesn't get easier to go on homicide calls.
Both Officer Shue and Epolito say outside of work they spend time with family and hang out with fellow officers to help process working in a violent area.
"It's not that it doesn't affect us, I've got officers who are friends who've had nightmares about things. Usually with children it'll stick with you a little more," said Epolito.
"Obviously the person who is murdered is the victim but the family is also. The family is the one, when you see that, that bothers me more than having to stand the body," said Shue. "The reactions of the living..seeing their pain and their grief.
And that’s where we’ll pick up tomorrow morning when we hear from the family of Jabari Stewart. He was murdered on January 4th. And his family still trying to figure out what to do with their grief.