Youngstown police chief offers explanation on declining homicide rate

27 Investigates

Youngstown and Warren both saw decreases in homicides in 2018 from the year before

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Richard Rogers says he knows the numbers don’t look good, but Youngstown’s homicide total actually shows a downward trend in recent years.

Rogers, an associate professor of criminal justice at Youngstown State University, said the numbers for homicides across the state in the “2018 FBI Crimes in the United States” report show that the city has been trending down in recent years when it comes to homicides.

In 2018, Youngstown recorded 26 homicides, down from 2017, when they recorded 28 homicides.

The bad news in those numbers, however, is that the city still has the highest murder per capita in the state, Rogers said.

Rogers said the city deserves credit, though, for turning around high homicide numbers that began in the 1990s, when 492 people were murdered, or an average of 49.2 murders per year.

Since then, the city’s homicide rate has declined dramatically. From 2001 to 2010, the city recorded 288 homicides, an average of 28.7 per year. And from 2011 to 2019, the city has recorded 189 homicides or an average of 23 a year.

Youngstown Homicides Through the Decade:
– 2011: 24
– 2012: 27
– 2013: 22
– 2014: 20
– 2015: 23
– 2016: 19
– 2017: 28
– 2018: 26
TOTAL: 189 (average of 23 a year)
Source: Youngstown Police Department

So far in Youngstown this year, the city has recorded 15 homicides.

“Youngstown is a good story,” Rogers said.

Police Chief Robin Lees said the main reason for the decline of the average yearly rate is because most murders in the city arise from drug activity. The people involved in those activities tend to kill — and be killed or locked up, he said.

“The bad guys are killing the bad guys and then we’re putting 70% of them in jail for it, so at some point, you’re going to have a general decline there,” Lees said.

Lees also said that most of the gun violence in the city is committed by a small cadre of people who often rob each other or use violence to settle disputes. They account for a majority of the city’s homicides, he said.

When one of them is arrested, the murder rate often goes down because they are in jail and can’t kill anybody, Lees said.

“One individual might be responsible for several killings,” Lees said. “Once that person is incarcerated, the [killings] stop.”

Lees said ebbs and flow in the homicide rate are often the result of infighting among the small group of people who are involved in drugs and gun violence.

He said that was true in 2017 when the city saw 28 homicides — an increase of 19 the year before — and when they recorded 13 homicides from Oct. 25 to Dec. 31 last year.

As the city’s population has declined, so has the city’s criminal population, Lees said.

Besides Youngstown, Warren also saw a decrease in homicides. Warren has six homicides in 2018, down from 13 in 2017.

Niles had two homicides in 2018, but only one was recorded in the FBI report. Brookfield also had a homicide in 2018, but the police department submitted no data for the report, and it was not included.

In Mahoning County, the crime report lists only one murder or non-negligent manslaughter outside of Mahoning County in 2018, and that was in Sebring. Attempts to find out more information on that Friday from both the Sebring Police Department and the Mahoning County Coroner’s Office were unsuccessful.

No murders for 2018 were listed for any of the departments in Columbiana County that submitted information for the report.

Nationally, murders accounted for 1.3% of violent crimes in the United States. According to the report, a murder occurs every 32.5 minutes.

Rogers said he is not sure if the national numbers of declining homicides are part of a trend. He said since 2011, the homicide rate has “oscillated,” or fluctuated up and down.

The rate spiked from a decade low of 14,196 murders in 2013 to 15,696 murders in 2015. The murder rate jumped in 2016 and 2017 with 17,250 and 17,284 murders, respectively.

In 2018, the nation recorded 16,214 murders, a 6.2% decrease from 2017.

Rogers said while the murder rate was down for 2018, it still remained at a level greater than it was when it began spiking in the middle of the decade. He said there is the potential the homicide rate could spike again because there is not enough data to determine if a trend of declining murder rates is on the way.

“I’m a little concerned,” Rogers said.

Editor’s note: Some local police departments, such as Youngstown and Warren, underreported their homicides for the Uniform Crime Report but did not offer an explanation. The numbers used in this story were compiled by a reporter, who was looking through his police records.

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