Pubdate: Sat, 04 Sep 1999
Source: Charlotte Observer (NC)
Copyright: 1999 The Charlotte Observer
Author: Maki Becker, Staff Writer


It's only September.

But already 65 people have been slain this year in
Charlotte-Mecklenburg. That's as many homicide victims as there were
in all of 1998.

To stop the killings, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department
announced Friday that it's getting ready to more aggressively target
three factors that seem to be contributing to the rise in homicides:
guns, illegal drugs and family violence.

The department is forming new plans of attack, from more actively
educating the public to new enforcement techniques, including
assigning more officers to specifically target street-level drug activity.

According to figures compiled this week by the department's felony
investigations bureau:

Guns were used in three-quarters of this year's homicides.

At least a third of the cases either directly or indirectly involved
drugs, especially crack cocaine.

In at least half of the cases, the suspect and victim knew each other,
police believe. Classic domestic violence cases (such as husband/wife,
boyfriend/girlfriend confrontations) made up 7 percent of all cases.

Deputy Police Chief Deacon Jones, who is heading the homicide
reduction effort, declined to give many details about the department's

But Jones said the department is working with many other agencies,
from the U.S. Attorney's office to county social workers to figure out
ways to cut down on homicides.

Also, each of the department's four service areas has been charged
with developing strategies to reduce homicides and violent crimes that
lead to homicides.

Jones said police do not know exactly why homicides are up this

One thing officers have noticed is that street-level drug dealers seem
to be keeping their guns on them. As recently as a year ago, they were
hiding their weapons several feet away, Jones said.

To cut down on illegal weapon use and drug-related violence, the Adam
service area will start a street-crimes squad called a "community
crime response unit," Jones said.

The Adam service area used to have a similar team, called the street
drug interdiction unit, but it was phased out in the past several
years. Jones, who oversees Adam, said the new unit's members will talk
directly with suspected dealers and make clear that their behavior is
not acceptable.

Police will also look at violence within families, from spousal
killings to child abuse. Authorities will re-examine how they approach
domestic situations, Jones said. That will include looking at whether
police should be more aggressive about arresting suspects in family
violence situations, or whether arrests exacerbate domestic strife.

Police emphasize that although the homicide numbers are rising,
overall violent crime dropped 6 percent during the first half of 1999,
compared to the same period last year. And this year's pace still lags
far behind 1993, for example, when there were 129 homicides.

But many people don't feel safe.

In the 1999 Charlotte Observer/WBTV News Carolinas Poll, 72 percent of
Mecklenburg residents surveyed said they thought they were equally or
more likely to be a crime victim than they were five years ago.

Some of those surveyed pointed to the stabbing death of Diane Wilson.
The 51-year-old legal secretary was killed July 13 in an uptown
parking lot during an apparent carjacking.

Police say random killings by strangers are extremely rare, and many
tend to involve people who engage in high-risk, illegal activities.

FBI statistics released in May showed Charlotte-Mecklenburg's violent
crime rate for 1998 ranked No. 25 among the 225 police jurisdictions
with populations over 100,000.

Some cities and counties around Charlotte have also seen an increase
in homicides.

Gastonia, for example, has logged 10 homicides this year, compared
with six by the same time last year.

Monroe authorities, on the other hand, investigated eight homicides
last year, but just two so far this year.
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