Theodore Decker: 'Incomplete homicides' show little improvement in terms of city violence




  • In US
  • 2022-10-04 10:03:49Z
  • By The Columbus Dispatch
Organizers from the community visit a neighborhood behind the Northern Lights Shopping Center on Sept.
Organizers from the community visit a neighborhood behind the Northern Lights Shopping Center on Sept.  

Shortly after 2 a.m. last Thursday, the city's ShotSpotter gunfire-detection system alerted in a Hilltop neighborhood just south of West Broad Street.

The amount of gunfire triggered the system to raise several flags, including alerts that the shooting might have involved high-capacity firearm magazines or more than one shooter.

The first officers to arrive found that a house in the 100 block of South Burgess Avenue had been struck several times by gunfire and that a 17-year-old girl inside was shot. She was taken to OhioHealth Grant Medical Center and is expected to fully recover.

The week before this all happened, a fair amount of attention was paid to the news that a 100th person had been killed in Columbus this year.

Several others have died since then, but the milestone was highlighted in part because it arrived so much later in 2022 than it had last year, when a record number of people were killed in Columbus. In fact, homicides in the city this year have fallen by about a third over the same time period last year.

Columbus Dispatch Metro columnist Theodore Decker
Columbus Dispatch Metro columnist Theodore Decker  

With three months in the year left to go, though, it is a near certainty that 2022 will far surpass many other years when it comes to killing. Columbus ended 2007, for instance, with 79 people killed. In 2008, when a marked jump in the total led to considerable public alarm, 109 died.

Homicide database:See where homicides have occurred in Columbus this year

Back to that girl on South Burgess Avenue.

The release on the shooting that was sent out by Columbus police noted that she is the 1,000th felonious assault victim this year.

From a moral standpoint, let's state the obvious and say that no city that strives for greatness should tolerate or accept a state-of-affairs in which a teen girl is shot in her home while what may have been a gun battle is waged on the street outside.

Stepping off from there, however, is this broader perspective from a textbook on crime analysis and data-gathering by criminologist Colleen McCue:

"Many aggravated assaults can be viewed as incomplete or poorly planned homicides," she wrote in the 2015 book. "Similarly, the line that separates a lethal from a nonlethal assault often reflects the quality of medical care or timeliness of response, rather than some specific intent on the part of the suspect. With that in mind, homicides and aggravated assaults can be viewed more as a continuum, rather than as two separate and distinct entities."

More:Linden community organizes anti-violence marches

McCue is saying what all big-city police know.

I remember one third-shift homicide sergeant telling me much the same thing shortly after I started at The Dispatch in 2006. The line between a murder and a felony assault is often a literal matter of inches, he said, and it was only because of the daily miracles worked by the city's trauma hospitals that our homicide rates were not through the roof.

If we take McCue's suggestion that homicides and felony assaults are part of the same criminal continuum, the 35% drop in homicides this year becomes far less-pronounced. If we continue at the current pace, we might end the year with about 9% fewer felonious assaults than last year.

Any downward trend is welcome; that's the direction we want to go.

But in digging through our archives, trying to jog my memory about the night of that long-ago conversation with the now-retired homicide sergeant, I came across an old story about a terrible crime. It happened almost exactly 14 years ago, during a beautiful stretch of October weather much like the one we're expected to have this week.

It occurred on Fairmont Avenue, just about a mile east of the home where the girl was shot last week.

Three people were found shot to death on Oct. 9, 2008, inside a house that neighbors told me had been known for drug trafficking. The slayings were among five to occur that week, pushing 2008 past the previous year-end total of 79. City officials at the time said not to read too much into it.

"Realistically, when you look at the overall numbers, 100 has been an average (annual) number for us," one spokeswoman said.

As part of that story, the city reported that serious assaults were down that year, from 1,055 to 985. Over the same time period in 2006, there had been 1,089.

Now, in another October, 14 years later, those numbers and the story haven't changed much.

Malissa Thomas-St.
Malissa Thomas-St.  

"We can't get too over ourselves and think that what we're doing is enough," said Malissa Thomas-St. Clair, who co-founded Mothers of Murdered Columbus Children and lost her son to violence in 2013.

"We can't settle," she said last month. "Because these parents are continuing to lose their children."

Theodore Decker is the Dispatch metro columnist.

tdecker@dispatch.com

@Theodore_Decker

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: 'Incomplete homicides' show little improvement in Columbus violence

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