Murder on the rise

On April 7, the city had its 12th homicide of the year as a 30-year-old female was found dead in a home on SW 60th Street.

Few details were known in the following days. Was this a drug-related homicide? A domestic dispute? Or maybe a murder related to the city’s increase in gang activity?

All that was known was it was another body in a city that has seen its murder count steadily rise over the past decade.

In 2006, Oklahoma City’s four-year homicide average was 49.2 a year. After last year’s 75 murders, the city’s current four-year average is 73.5, a 149-percent increase.

Oklahoma City’s murder rate per 100,000 residents was 14.2 in 2012, ranking it No. 18 out of American cities, which is a higher rate than Dallas (12.4) and New York (5.0).

City rates defy national trend

OKC’s homicide rate increase in recent years is opposite a nationwide trend that has seen the annual number of murders fall. America’s homicide rate has declined over the past 20 years from a rate of 8.1 murders per 100,000 in 1995 to 4.8 per 100,000 in in 2012, according to data compiled by the FBI.

With the city now at 12 homicides for the year, OKC is on pace to end 2014 with a decline in homicides. It might be too early to draw any conclusions. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations tracks murders across the state, and its data shows that the months with the highest number of homicides in 2012 were September and October.

However, in 2011, the highest months were March and January, which might indicate that there is no set pattern.

“Although we’re lower right now than we were at this point last year, that never means that things couldn’t pick up and we [couldn’t] end up the same as last year or more,” said Jennifer Wardlow, assistant public information officer at the Oklahoma City Police Department.

“Or we may have a lower number this year and a low number the following year. There’s no predicting homicide numbers. It’s impossible to do, even looking at current and past numbers.”

An increase in homicides could be due to several factors, including the city’s rise in gang activity.

“We have a lot of gang activity and a lot of gang-related crime [in Oklahoma City],” said Charles Meinhart, professor of sociology and justice studies at Oklahoma City University. “We ranked No. 4 in terms of gang-related criminal activity last year, and that can include murders.”

Meinhart also said the spike in homicides locally could be attributed to the economy. But with national homicide rates declining, that theory is not panning out across the country.

“Know that [national homicide rates] have trended down, and that is kind of interesting because with an economy that is going down, murders tend to go up,” Meinhart said.

Ben Felder

Ben is an urban affairs reporter covering local government and education in Oklahoma City. He lives in OKC with his wife, Lori, and son, Satchel. Ben holds a masters in new media journalism from Full Sail University and is an OKC transplant from Kansas City, Mo. Twitter: @benfelder_okg

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