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Oklahoma City homicide detectives stay busy

Year of nearly 100 slayings give Oklahoma City investigators a full plate
BY MATT DINGER Published: January 13, 2013

It's Monday afternoon and the homicide office at the Oklahoma City Police Department is quietly humming.

Several of the 14 homicide detectives are working at their computers amid seas of papers, files and binders.

The office mascot — Morty, a cartoon buzzard — is painted on the back wall in one corner of the room. In another corner sits Gary Damron.

Damron, 64, has been a homicide detective since 1998 and a police officer longer than anyone else in the department.

“When I came on in '69, it was the excitement more than anything else. As time went on, the excitement never left,” he said.

Seated directly to his right is 44-year-old Robbie Benavides, who joined homicide in November 2006. Benavides is Damron's partner. The pair works a regular office schedule, but the men also are on call during three- or four-day rotations. The homicides they are assigned are luck of the draw.

“Anything you catch during times on call, you get,” Damron said.

And they caught quite a few last year.

There were 99 reported homicides in Oklahoma City in 2012, the third highest total for any year. The city had 102 homicides in 1979 and 236 in 1995, the year the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed.

“Since I've been in there, it's not been like this. This is the busiest year,” Damron said. “There are times when we clear off one, and not 20 minutes go by before we've got another.”

“We've had a year when we've had 13, 14, 15 cases. Every team has had a year when they've gotten the most cases out of anybody,” Benavides said.

But there are other times when you don't get a single call, Benavides said, and they didn't catch their first case in 2012 until summer.

Of the six cases they worked last year, four of them are considered solved, Benavides said.

“When we make an arrest on a case, we consider it solved. But it's never shut until it goes to the district attorney's office and the court proceedings start,” he said.

Detectives continue to work on their assigned unsolved cases until they are solved. Any cases left unsolved when detectives leave the unit are reassigned.

Elite unit

Doug Hurst, 36, is the new detective on the block. His first day in homicide was Nov. 9. He spent the previous four years investigating sex crimes.

“Doug hasn't been here that long, but he fits right in,” Benavides said.

“For me, I think working homicide is an elite unit. We're talking about death penalty, life without (parole) and life with (parole) cases,” Hurst said. “The homicide unit has a deep, rich culture. They have homicide reunions. When you get into the office, you feel like a part of that tradition.”

Morty and the unit's motto — “When your day ends, our day begins” — were created decades ago and copyrighted, Benavides said.

But there's a lot more to the position than pride or prestige.

“It's a very stressful job. That's no lie. It's very stressful,” Benavides said. “There are times when you have to drop everything and come in. I've been at the mall or eating with my wife when you get a call.”

Homicide detectives are sent to the scenes of violent deaths and deaths by unknown cause. This includes suicides.

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