Charlotte homicides are skyrocketing. What’s going on?

Charlotte homicides are skyrocketing. What’s going on?
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2017 has been the most violent year in Charlotte in recent memory.

Through this weekend, 37 people have lost their lives to violence in the city — not counting officer-involved shootings. The latest came Sunday evening in a shooting in the Derita-Statesville neighborhood. 34-year-old Lucas Lorenzo Baldwin was found dead of a gunshot wound.

The pace is staggering: Not even halfway through the year, the number of homicides has already come close to the full-year total of 2014.

At this time last year, there were only 17 homicides — and 2016 marked a six-year high.

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Should the pace continue, 2017 would mark the third year in a row of an increasing number of killings.

The death toll has left police and politicians searching for answers. The cause of the spike in homicides is difficult to put a finger on. The issues appear to be both deep-seated and not easily eradicated.

Where are the killings happening?

The homicides are fairly scattered across the city, though they have largely avoided the affluent wedge of south Charlotte.

While there are no obvious hot spots for killings, CMPD has targeted four areas this year to crack down on violent crime. Homicides this year have often coincided with other crimes like assaults or robberies.

Officers have flooded the following areas as part of “Operation Avalanche”: Sugar Creek Road at I-85, The Plaza at Eastway Drive, Eastway Drive at Central Avenue, and Sharon Amity Road at Milton Road. There have been homicides this year near each of those areas.

What does CMPD say about the homicide total?

Few of them appear to be random killings. In statements, police have attributed several of the homicides to drug-related disputes. Others have been as the result of arguments or fights.

Of the four killings over Memorial Day weekend, police said three of them were correlated with “high-risk behavior” and that the victim and suspect knew each other.

“We continue to see a troubling trend of young people resorting to gunfire to settle differences,” Deputy Chief Johnny Jennings said at a news conference soon after.

There is also a stubbornly high number of domestic violence incidents resulting in death, an Agenda review of police reports shows. So far this year, at least two suspects are accused of killing parents. One infant died at the hands of her parents. At least five more killings involved married or dating couples.

24 of the 36 homicides have been cleared by arrest so far.

How does this compare with other cities?

Charlotte has long had far fewer homicides than Atlanta, which recorded 111 homicides last year and 95 the year before.

That comparison may reverse itself this year. Through April, Atlanta has recorded 26 homicides, according to the most recent data from the city’s police department. Charlotte has 29 through the same time period.

Denver, Colorado, reported 17 homicides through April. Seattle, similar in size to Charlotte, has only 4.

Homicides in Durham are down more than 60 percent year-to-date, with 6 so far.

Chicago has 255 homicides so far this year.

Will crime factor into the mayoral race?

Almost certainly. It already appears to be.

The Democratic primary challengers to Mayor Jennifer Roberts, Vi Lyles and Joel Ford, along with Republican candidate Kenny Smith, have all pushed for public safety to be be a higher priority. Expect the issue to be a hot topic as campaigns heat up this summer.

[Agenda story: Rising death toll pushes crime to the top of Charlotte’s agenda]

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