YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — The Youngstown Police Department saw a decrease in the homicide rate for the first time in three years in 2019, but the department was not without its challenges.
The city recorded 20 homicides, its lowest total since 2016.
The department ended the year by adding seven new officers and welcoming back three others who left for other departments last year.
Here are the Top-10 stories in Youngstown crime in 2010:
1.) The Low Homicide Rate: The city this year recorded 20 homicides, the lowest since 2016 when it recorded 19. Four homicides within 36 hours on December 11 and 12 pushed the number of murders from 16 to 20, including a triple homicide at a South Side home on West Delason Avenue.
The number is a reduction from 2018 and 2017, when the city recorded 28 homicides each year.
For the decade, the city has seen 183 homicides, an average of 20.3 per year. For the millennium, the city has seen 471 homicides, an average of 24.7 homicides per year. The first decade of the millennium saw the city record 288 homicides.
Since 1971, Youngstown has recorded 1,490 homicides, an average of 30 per year.
2.) Manpower Shortage: The Patrol Division operated throughout the year as if on a carousel, as several veteran officers left the department for other jobs because of what is perceived as the city’s low starting pay and the amount of time it takes to “max out,” or reach the maximum salary.
Earlier this year, officers received a 1% raise, and the starting salary was bumped up from $14.92 an hour to a little more than $16 an hour.
Sometimes it is hard to fill all of the department’s beats on a daily basis. Lots of officers work double shifts because of the shortage. Earlier this year, five officers were reassigned from other jobs to the Patrol Division to beef up the ranks.
Earlier this month, the city added seven officers to the force. They will undergo several months of training with a Field Training Officer before they are assigned a beat of their own.
The city also welcomed back three officers before the end of the year who left for other departments but decided to come back to Youngstown.
3.) Clearing Old Cases: The department closed out 2018 with 28 homicides, adding two more cases later in the year that were ruled homicides — the death of a toddler on the North Side in October of 2018 and the death of a woman in February who was shot in the head in July of 2018.
From October 14, 2018, to Dec. 30, 2018, the city saw 14 homicides, and only one of those killings was solved before the end of the year.
Chief Robin Lees stressed patience, saying that detectives and crime scene investigators were awaiting the results of tests done on evidence found at different crime scenes and that he expected arrests in several of those cases.
The department was able to solve seven of those homicides in 2018, including a triple homicide where one of the victims was a 3-month-old baby. All told, detectives solved 19 of the 28 homicides in 2018, a clearance rate of almost 68%. The national average is just over 61%.
4.) East Side Mother Killed: Crystal Hernandez wanted to be a makeup artist. Instead, she was shot and killed January 24 inside her McBride Street apartment while cradling her baby to protect him from gunfire.
Police said several people opened up on her apartment with a variety of guns, including an assault rifle. In the days afterward, detectives said the gunmen shot up the apartment to get back at her boyfriend, who had robbed and shot at one of them.
Six people were charged with aggravated murder for shooting into the apartment. Two people were charged with the robbery that led to the murder.
One of those men pleaded guilty earlier this year in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court. He was found shot to death on December 11 in a home on the East Side. Detectives do not believe his death is related to the Hernandez case.
5.) Tod Lane Homicide: There was a car crash, 50 shell casings and a body after Savon Young, 25, was shot and killed April 9 in broad daylight on Tod Lane on the North Side.
The murder harkened back to the Crack Wars days of the ’90s, because of all the firepower involved, including an assault rifle, that was used.
A couple was riding down the street in a pickup truck when gunfire broke out and the truck collided with another car. No one else was injured by gunfire other than Young, who was found lying in the front yard. A third car was abandoned at the crime scene.
Police have not said who began the shooting or if Young was a target or was just struck by a stray bullet. The case is still unsolved.
6.) String Of Domestic Related Murders: Four of the first five homicides of 2019 and five overall were the result of domestic disputes, including the beating death of a North Side woman and the death of a baby in his North Side home.
One of those defendants has since been convicted and police have made arrests in the other four cases.
In 2018, the department had four domestic-related murders.
7.) Operation Steel Penguin: With a nod to two of the things Youngstown is known for the most — steel and the nickname of Youngstown State University — city police and federal and state parole agents fanned out across the city in the spring to look for people who are known to use guns.
Through a combination of home visits by parole agents or traffic stops, the detail netted 33 guns and made several arrests. At least four of those suspects were charged in federal court, where sentences are much higher for gun crimes.
The detail started as a response to the late surge in homicides in the city in 2018, when police investigated 14 homicides from October 14 to December 30, most of them drug-related.
The idea behind the detail was to look for people who are known to have or use guns, since that small set is usually responsible for the majority of gun crimes in the city.
A follow-up operation was being run on a reduced scale later in the year.
8.) The Big Money: In one of its largest seizures of cash in years, members of the vice squad and Community Police Unit on December 4 seized almost $46,000 in a home on Cherry Hill on the West Side.
Police also seized a 9mm Glock with a 50-round drum magazine.
Speculation from vice investigators was that the money would be used to buy more drugs wholesale, which could then be distributed in smaller amounts on the street.
Police termed the find signs of a “significant” drug operation being run out of the house.
9.) Training: This year, the city trained officers in how to use tourniquets, and all officers who are in uniform will be wearing them on their duty belts, the idea being that they would be equipped to provide first aid to someone if an officer arrives before an ambulance.
The tourniquets are expected to arrive after the first of the year.
Homicide detectives also saw a major upgrade in their training this year as they visited the prestigious Southern Police Institute at the University of Louisville in Kentucky to take part in their death investigation classes.
The department has already implemented one change since detectives attended the course; for some homicides, instead of the traditional two-man detective team and a supervisor, a third detective will be added, whose job will be to scour social media postings or interview witnesses while other investigators are still at the crime scene.
10.) Death of John Perdue: On a sad note, the department said goodbye the hard way to one of its most popular officers as former Detective Sgt. John Perdue died unexpectedly in January at the age of 65 after spending 39 years on the department, several of them as a homicide detective, which was his job when he died.
Perdue was known for his excellent memory, especially of the South Side where he grew up, and for making bets he knew he would lose because he would pay up by cooking food for his coworkers.