Homicides in Charlotte
The primary causes of Charlotte's 85 homicides in 2005 were arguments, domestic violence and robberies
57 (67%) of those 85 homicides were committed with handguns
As in previous years, African-Americans were disproportionately represented among both victims and suspects; 45 of the victims (53%) were African American as were 46 of the 66 identified suspects
Nationally, the greatest number of homicide victims is between the ages of 16-25; in Charlotte, more than half of the 85 homicide victims were between the ages of 25-49
In addition to the 85 homicides, there were 3,874 aggravated assaults in Charlotte in 2005
Some of those aggravated assaults did not become homicides only because of the skill of local hospital trauma units. The intent to kill was present
Through June 30, 2006, there were 34 homicides, a decrease of 8.1%; however aggravated assaults increased by 4.5% during the first six months of the year, a clear indication that violence remains a pervasive problem in our community
Homicides in Charlotte 1990-2005
Rate per 100,000 population
Gangs and their associated culture contribute to the homicide problem in any community where they are active
There are over 100 gangs in Charlotte, some with as few as three members, some with as many as 200
During FY06, 952 crimes were directly linked to gangs; the actual number is likely to be much higher
Young people join gangs because they offer power, money, sex, and, most important, acceptance. In his remarks to the task force, Kelly Alexander, University Research Park Neighborhood Association, said one of the most disturbing aspects of gangs is that "they recruit new membership 24/7—should we do any less?"
Alcohol and/or drug abuse is a contributing factor to a significant amount of criminal activity
Nationally, two-third's of adults and half of juvenile arrestees test positive for drugs
Charlotte's adult arrestee figures are the same as the national figures; however, 79% of arrested persons under the age of 21 in Charlotte tested positive for drugs in April 2006
While the number of drug and alcohol users in the United States has declined by 45% since 1979, the number of crimes attributable to drugs has spiraled upward
Substance abuse is also a leading cause of vehicular homicides which, while not the focus of this report, are still an issue this community must address
Drug abusers begin offending earlier and continue to offend longer
Virtually everyone in this community who has ended up on death row had substance abuse in their family and/or their own background
Robyn Withrow, then a managing partner in the law firm of Stevens and Withrow, told the Task Force that of the 8-10 death row inmates her firm had represented, all had substance abuse issues themselves or within their families
Domestic homicides are increasing in Charlotte
They transcend all cultural, racial, faith, and economic boundaries
Due to the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator, domestic homicides can be difficult to prevent; however, police sometimes have the opportunity to intervene if the victim has utilized the criminal justice system to address the problem
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department receives more than 700 domestic calls per week, although many domestic violence incidents are unreported due to the victim's fear of retaliation and an/or embarrassment
The criminal justice system and support programs for victims and perpetrators are overwhelmed by service demands
Children exposed to domestic violence are likely to follow in their parents' footsteps
Criminal Justice System
The criminal justice system in Charlotte is under-funded, understaffed and overwhelmed by the demands
Mecklenburg County has 9% of the state's population but 20% of its violent index crime, 15% of the property index crime and 9% of the court cases
Despite the volume of offenses, Mecklenburg County receives only 6.7% of the state's judicial budget
There are only 936 trial days in District Court, causing some cases to be disposed of in two minutes or less
There are 456 felony trial days, resulting in two to three year delays in felony trials
There is a high rate of turnover in the District Attorney's Office and Probation and Parole lacks the resources to track the 8,000 people on probation in Mecklenburg County
Most local criminal justice administrators cite better and more integrated information systems as a critical need.
In Mecklenburg County, more money is spent on Animal Control ($5,228,527) than on the District Attorney's Office ($4,000,000).
Charlotte vs. Portland Criminal Justice System Comparison
Felony Cases Disposed
Causes of Violence
Most violence occurs in an environment in which the perpetrator is trapped in a cycle of poverty, broken families, exposure to abusive relationships, untreated mental health issues, low education, limited employment opportunities, and a lack of any positive role models. This cycle leads to low self esteem and limited ability to make appropriate life choices. In far too many cases, it leaves young people with the sense there is not much to live for.
Individuals who grow up in a cycle of hopelessness are also part of a society that glorifies violence, defines manhood by the display of violent behavior and views violence as the problem solving alternative of choice, especially if a handgun is readily available
Indeed, killings that stem from arguments are one of the fastest growing categories of homicides both locally and nationally. Those who have little or no social status rely on physical prowess to define who they are. Under such conditions they are easily challenged, easily threatened and prone to violent responses. Andres Soto, the violence prevention coordinator for Alameda County, California, says, "There is a new viciousness in street culture now. Violence as a first strike response is part of the national culture now"
The media fuels this violent culture through both news and entertainment venues
Many people who do not experience the cycle of hopelessness and its resulting violence are apathetic to it and do not consider its staggering effect on the community's safety, values, image and budget
Early intervention in the lives of children is the foundation of virtually every potential homicide reduction strategy
Schools appear to be the focal point for this type of intervention through identifying children who come from troubled homes and/or show tendencies toward violent or destructive behavior
The school system is the logical catalyst for mental health evaluations for students in elementary school and linking students and their families to community resources to strengthen the family and give the student the resources he/she needs to make appropriate life choices.
Former Interim School Superintendent Frances Haithcock says the number one indicator of whether a child will be a productive citizen in the community or a lifelong participant in the criminal justice system is whether a child can read at grade level by the end of first grade—children who get behind early stay behind forever
Reaching children in elementary school is critical if they are to take a path toward productive citizenship instead of self destructive behavior and criminal activity. Children with realistic long-term goals are less likely to become delinquent than those who live their lives focused on a hedonistic present
The triggering event in most homicides is a feeling of having been victimized or disrespected. Culturally, society supports and justifies violent reactions in the name of self defense as well as projecting blame on the other and failing to accept any responsibility for the conflict. To get at the root of homicides, individuals need to learn early to accept responsibility for their actions. This starts very early, requiring parents, teachers, and society to stop making excuses for violent behavior
Support and Development of Prevention Programs
There are a number of strong prevention programs in place in Charlotte. One of the most promising is the Steele Creek Youth Network in which the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department partners with religious institutions and non-profit organizations to create and implement youth programs in their congregations and organizations. These programs target youth who are particularly at risk of joining gangs and becoming involved in criminal activity. There are many other programs throughout the community, some of which are never publicized. A network of prevention programs is one of the most critical components in any homicide reduction strategy. Prevention programs are our best defense against what Jim Wallace of Sojourners describes as a society with, "sixth grade girls who do not dream" and "young men who pick out chrome---not for their cars but for their caskets."
Drug courts are an extremely successful intervention tool
Drug courts can mandate treatment for an offender with the threat of sanctions if the offender does not complete the prescribed treatment program
The Treatment Research Institute estimates that offenders who are merely referred to treatment without the structured over sight of a drug court have a low success rate with 40 to 80% dropping out in 3 months and 90% dropping out by the end of a year
In 2004, there were 1,621 drug courts in the United States, including one in Mecklenburg County
In an audit of drug courts in 2005, the federal General Accounting Office found that graduates of drug court programs had lower rearrest and reconviction rates and fewer recidivism incidents than offenders who did not undergo coerced drug treatment
Cities across the country tout drug courts as a good investment. The Institute for Applied Research says that in Saint Louis," each drug court graduate cost the city $2,615 less then those on probation alone." Other cities echo that, with Multnomah County, Oregon (Portland) and Dallas, Texas indicating that for every dollar spent on drug court, ten dollars were saved. The savings are realized in a variety of ways, including avoided costs to the criminal justice system, avoided costs to victims, employability of recovered offenders and more babies being born drug free.
Emergency of Problem Solving Courts
One of the most promising national trends is the evolution of drug courts into problem solving courts. These courts take the problem solving model used in drug court and apply it to other populations and issues
The Bureau of Justice Statistics says that "effective trial courts are responsive to emergent public issues…. A trial court that moves deliberately in response to emergent issues is a stabilizing force in society and acts consistently with its role of maintaining the rule of law."
Nationally, there are 936 problem solving courts addressing issues such as mental health, domestic violence, prostitution, truancy and parole violations
Their application of a holistic approach to a problem could be adapted to issues of concern in our community.
Homicide Reduction Strategies
A number of communities have developed comprehensive homicide reduction strategies which include enforcement, prevention and intervention components. One of the most publicized models was implemented in Boston, anchored by the Police Department's Operation Cease Fire Program which publicly targeted the most violent gangs in the city.
The enforcement program was predicated on a strong partnership between police and probation and parole. It also included a wide range of community partners, including congregations, youth service providers and neighborhood leaders who took a strong and active stand against the violence in their communities. While Operation Cease Fire was initially extremely successful in reducing homicides, many of its component programs were started with grant funding and could not be sustained as the funding ended. Boston's homicides are now back to their previous level of 70+ per year. The two greatest lessons learned from the Boston experience are that any successful homicide reduction effort must involve all segments of the community and must be sustainable at the local level.
Services for Victims
Families of homicide victims feel as if they are victimized as well. One father told the task force he and his family "received a life sentence" when his daughter was murdered. The victims' families must deal with their grief and altered circumstances while, at the same time, negotiating the criminal justice system.
Victims' families are starved for information when there often is none; they also want the system to bring them justice and closure-two things it often cannot provide. Many victims' families believe police are not as sensitive to their needs as they should be, especially when it comes to sharing information on a timely basis. In listening to victims' families, it was clear that personnel in all segments of the criminal justice system need to be more sensitive to the needs of the family, providing more timely information updates and helping them understand what happens as a case goes through the system.
Services for Offenders
A considerable number of homicide offenders have prior experience with the criminal justice system. In 2005, 44 of the 66 homicide suspects identified in Charlotte had a total of 425 arrests including 21 arrests for aggravated assault and one previous arrest for murder
Far too often, offenders who have been incarcerated return to the community with no job, no stability and no hope, hardened from the experience rather than being reformed. Consequently, they go back to the same environment they knew which, so often, is associated with violence, substance abuse and no positive support in turning their lives around. This puts them back into a cycle of escalating crime, sometimes concluding with commission of the ultimate crime-homicide.
There are several good programs for offenders who return to our community but they have limited resources and difficulty getting widespread support for their efforts as reintegration of the offender into the community is not always a popular cause. In reality, successful reentry is an investment that pays dividends if the offender no longer commits crimes and can find meaningful employment. The community needs to invest in the reentering offender and, if possible, make services available while the offender is still incarcerated so that he/she can have some kind of life plan when released.
Cost to the Community
One of the most disturbing but least discussed aspects of homicide is its cost to the community, both in terms of actual dollars and its reputation. The Tennessean, a Nashville newspaper, recently did a study of the cost of homicides to the taxpayers. The report stated that "an aspect of murder routinely overlooked is the financial impact on families and the community. In most murders, that impact encompasses a wide and unlikely circle of people."
The study found the average cost of a murder to the community—from the moment a police investigation begins to the time the offender has served his sentence—is more than $628,648. Expenses include the cost of the police investigation, the trial, usually including a public defender or court appointed attorney for the offender; expenses for the medical examiner's office, and the cost of incarcerating the offender, which escalates as the offender grows older. That figure also includes clean-up of crime scenes, trauma center bills for victims that are never paid and are ultimately passed on to paying customers through higher costs, and burial expenses for the victim.
But that is not all of the costs. The Tennessean reports that "national experts say more than a third of all families of homicide victims seek some form of public assistance within months of the murder. For the families of murderers, the same may be true."
If a homicide is committed while the victim is at work, the business must pay worker's compensation premiums while dealing with lost business if the public perceives the location to be unsafe. Most businesses usually provide services to the families of the victims as well.
Homicides even affect the life expectancy rates used by insurance companies to determine risks and calculate premiums. Jean Lamaire, a professor of insurance and actuarial science at the Wharton School, states, "Every dollar spent on a murder investigation or incarcerating a murderer is money that can't be used for other government services. This certainly makes addressing ways to lower the rate of homicides an important public policy issue."
Certainly homicides also have a negative impact on the reputation of the community and the perception of its safety. No city wants the distinction of being the murder capital of the country. A reputation as an unsafe city has a chilling effect on business development, tourism and the stability of the city's neighborhoods. William Mustafa, representing the Hidden Valley Neighborhood Association, told task force members that while there had been only one murder in Hidden Valley in the past year, the media has fueled a public perception that is much worse. Negative publicity affects property values in the neighborhood, making it difficult for residents to sell their homes and discouraging productive businesses from coming in to the neighborhood.
Homicide reduction will require the will and effort of the entire community if it is to be successful and sustainable. The key to community involvement is heightened awareness of the nature and extent of the problem and the lasting effects it can have on the community. There is a need for an extensive public education campaign that presents homicide as what it is—a symptom of deeper community problems that need to be addressed if Charlotte is to remain a strong and stable city. Public education efforts should focus on reducing apathy and helping every citizen understand their vested interest in being part of the solution to the problem. Without community education—indeed, without community outrage—the violence in the community will be perpetuated.