2002, the year in review:
Don’t tell New York, but crime is going up
New York City may be a prominent if surprising exception, but much of the rest of the country is experiencing what analysts and criminal justice experts see as the beginning of the end of the nation’s longest-running downturn in crime. And the statistics were there to prove it.
The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report for 2001, released this past July, showed overall crime up by 2 percent that year over 2000, and the volume of violent offenses up by 0.6 percent. The number of murders grew by 3 percent, and robberies by 3.9 percent. Western states reported a 1.7-percent increase in crime — the highest of four regions. The South had a 1.0-percent increase in crime, but was the only region to record a decrease in murders — 2.1 percent.
“Murder is the most reliable indicator of serious crime we have,” Jack Levin, director of the Brudnick Center on Violence at Northeastern University, told The Boston Herald. “This is the beginning of the turnaround.”
Crime also increased slightly, by 1.3 percent, during the first six months of 2002, according to a preliminary report. Statistics released in December month showed a 2.3-percent increase in murder and an increase of nearly 2 percent in rape during the first half of 2002. Burglaries rose by 4.2 percent over the same period in 2001, and motor vehicle thefts by 4.2 percent.
“You take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves.”
— New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly
“It was completely unreasonable to expect crime to continue a steep decline,” said Samuel Walker, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska. “Things have turned worse in all economic classes.”
Added Michael P. Jacobson, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice: “The economy continually tanking, and unemployment rates increasing, cannot be a good thing in terms of crime, and it is one of the things, obviously, that police can’t control.”
In city after city, state after state, crime appears to be on the rise once again. According to the UCR:
Los Angeles experienced nearly a 7-percent increase in murders in 2001, with robberies climbing by 10 percent and aggravated assaults by 1 percent. Those statistics formed the backdrop against which William Bratton, the crime-busting former New York City police commissioner, took office as the new LAPD chief in October.
Birmingham, Ala., ranked 12th among the nation’s deadliest cities, and Alabama third among states, behind Louisiana and Mississippi, in the number of killings in 2001. Birmingham Police Chief Mike Coppage said such factors as more criminals being released, a population at the age where they commit crimes and a faltering economy have all contributed to the rise in violence. But while Birmingham had the highest homicide rate of any metropolitan area in the state, 11.9 per 100,000 residents, the five cities with the lowest overall crime rates were its suburbs.
In Little Rock, Ark., 41 homicides were recorded during the first nine months of this year, compared to 32 for all of 2001. Just why the murder rate increased to its highest level in five years is a matter of dispute between Police Chief Lawrence Johnson and local prosecutors. Johnson contends that the city’s jails are so overcrowded that officers often have to turn suspects loose. The police department is also operating at 32 officers below authorized strength. Prosecutors believe the rise is linked to gang-related activity. “I can tell you based on experience and common sense that when you have an increase in gang activity, you have an increase in drug activity,” said Prosecutor Larry Jegley. “The two go hand-in-hand and as a direct result, you’ll see more homicides.”
Boston saw a 67-percent rise in murders in 2001. There were nearly twice as many homicides reported that year as there were in 1999 – 66 as compared to 31. And there were 29 during the first six months of this year, a figure matching that of 2001. Experts believe the increase is due to the city’s Operation Cease-Fire program running out of steam. “As it existed in 1996 or 1997, Cease-Fire is entirely gone,” said David Kennedy, a lecturer at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government who was instrumental in the program credited with cutting Boston’s homicides rate by 80 during the 1990s.
Then there are the cities for which the decline in crime has not come to an end — a perception bolstered by data from the latest National Crime Victimization Survey, which showed a 10-percent decline in violent crime for 2001, and a 6-percent drop in property crime.
Leading the pack of localities that would question whether the honeymoon is over is New York. According to statistics released in December by the FBI, the city has the lowest overall crime rate of the nation’s 25 largest municipalities, and ranks 197th of 216 cities with populations of more than 100,000. New York may still have more crime than Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., but it has less than Provo, Utah.
Officials reported in December that New York’s murder rate had dropped to its lowest level in 40 years in 2002, falling by 12.4 percent to just 536 homicides.
“You take care of the little things and the big things will take of themselves,” said Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly. “We have anti-gun initiatives in place that have resulted in major gun cases. We’re engaged in old-fashioned narcotics investigations that haven’t been done in a while. It’s all very effective in reducing the violence.”
2002, the year in review:
Once again, a year for serial killers
Investigators tracking serial killers in the United States and Canada enjoyed at least one great success in 2002, and struggled with one enduring mystery.
A Canadian pig farmer Robert Pickton, 50, was charged by December with the murders of 15 women. Pickton is suspected of killing as many as 67 over the past 20 years — a murder toll that would make him the most prolific serial killer ever to strike in North America.
While Royal Canadian Mounted Police officials would not say what led them to investigate Pickton, a task force that includes both national and local law enforcement from Vancouver, British Columbia, has been tearing up the ramshackle hog farm where he is believed to have buried his victims’ remains. The excavation of the property, 22 miles from Vancouver in the town of Coquitlam, began in February. Although it has not been confirmed, investigators are thought to have shown relatives of the missing women photographs of shoes, jewelry, jackets and other items recovered from the site. Police are said to have found DNA of a number of victims at the site.
According to Dr. Kim Rossmo, a former Vancouver police inspector and now research director for the Police Foundation, there was resistance within the department to the idea that a serial killer was on the loose. One problem, he told Law Enforcement News in an earlier interview, was a lack of expertise on the part of local authorities in dealing with serial killers. Another was that the victims were primarily drug addicts and prostitutes.
“Obviously, it did play a role,” said Rossmo. “I don’t want to simplify it to say they’re prostitutes, everyone ignored it…but I think this one fell through the cracks.”
Rossmo is the creator of a computer program that uses statistical analysis to narrow down the locations where a serial killer might live or choose his victims. He noted that Pickton took his hog renderings to a plant in the neighborhood from which the women had disappeared. According to data that he examined while a member of the Vancouver department, and missing-persons data from the national capital in Ottawa, Rossmo found a cluster that began in 1995 and spiked in 1997. While the data suggested that one or two homicide victims would emerge per year from that area, police were seeing five, six, seven or eight. The simplest explanation, he said, was that the city had a serial killer.
Authorities in Baton Rouge, La., meanwhile, continue to be frustrated in their hunt for the individual responsible for the deaths of at least four women. In December, police linked the body of 23-year-old Trineisha Dene Colomb to the same person who killed Gina Wilson Green, 41, Charlotte Murray Pace, 22, and Pam Kinamore, 44. The latter three were sexually assaulted; authorities would not reveal whether Colomb was raped, as well.
Colomb was found beaten to death in November in the town of Scott. She was the first black victim and first outside of Baton Rouge to be linked to the killer. The Baton Rouge Area Homicide Task Force believes they are looking for a white male. More than 600 men, most of them Caucasian, have submitted DNA samples.
Besides the similarity between the murders of Colomb, whose body was found in a wooded area 20 miles from her car, and the others in Baton Rouge, a white pickup truck was also reported as having been seen parked behind the victim’s car on the last day she was seen alive. Task force officials have said they are looking for a late 1980s General Motors single cab pickup with bad paint, bad window tinting and a partial license plate that includes the letters J,T, and the numbers, 3,4 and 1.
A serial rapist and murder who took the lives of three Westchester County, N.Y., females, two of them teenagers, was sentenced to 75 years to life in prison in July after DNA evidence clinched his conviction. Patrick Baxter, 32, denied having anything to do with the deaths of Michelle Walker, 14; Patricia England, 19; and Lisa Gibbens, 25, who were killed between 1987 and 1990. A judge ordered the DNA test after Baxter’s name came up in all three incidents; he was already serving time for car theft.
In Columbus, Ohio, an analysis by The Columbus Dispatch found that 32 local woman either identified by police as prostitutes, or arrested for soliciting, have been killed since 1990. Three-quarters of the killings remain unsolved, in contrast to the 31 percent of all local homicides committed between 1990 through 2000 that remain open. The national average for the same period, according to the FBI, is 34 percent.