Oklahoma City flirted with a dubious record in 2012 — the 99 homicides during the year were the third most in history, just three short of the 102 homicides in 1979.
Only one other year had more homicides. The total was 236 in 1995, the year the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed.
Police Chief Bill Citty said homicide numbers can fluctuate wildly from one year to the next. The city had 60 homicides in both 2010 and 2011. Citty said he hopes 2012 was an aberration, but he is troubled by growing numbers of assaults that indicate increasing violence.
“That trend is going up every year,” he said. “I don't think our homicides will drop back into the 60s in 2013.”
Homicide totals for 2012 in other U.S. cities with similar population include Portland, Ore., 27; Albuquerque, N.M., 46; and Las Vegas, 80, according to their police departments.
There is no easy explanation for why so many people were killed in Oklahoma City in 2012, Citty said. The year began with a spike in domestic homicides, but those numbers leveled off. Gang-related violence was the biggest driver of the increased numbers, the chief said.
“The gang violence is the highest we've had,” Citty said. “Our drive-bys are up. Our gang-related and gang-involved homicides almost doubled.”
Tim Hock, a detective with the department's gang unit, said police track a record 5,150 Oklahoma City gang members and about 120 gang sets that operate in the city.
“It's a back-and-forth,” Hock said of the violence. “There's constant friction.”
Another common theme in many of the homicides police investigated in 2012 was drugs. Citty said drug-related crimes aren't just about deals gone bad or gang violence.
“In most cases, there is a drug nexus,” he said. When someone is killed during a robbery or other crime, there often is a drug connection.
DeWayne Walker is youth pastor at Prospect Baptist Church on the city's northeast side, where many of the homicides occurred.
“We're in the heart of the 'hood,” Walker said “You see lots of things, definitely drug activity going on. Prostitution, you name it. You're going to see it in our neighborhood.”
The city has prevention programs aimed at steering kids away from gangs and educating them about drugs. But it takes years to see results from such work.
“The programs and things only go so far,” Citty said. “You try to work with the schools. But those are more long-term solutions. Right now you have short-term problems.”
The chief said the top priority for bringing homicides down in 2013 is to focus resources in areas where the violence is most concentrated. If officers can arrest dangerous criminals and confiscate their weapons before they use them to kill someone, the city may avoid record homicide numbers in 2013.
Anyone with information about any Oklahoma City homicides is urged to call the homicide tip line at 297-1200.
Contributing: Staff Writer Juliana Keeping
The programs and things only go so far. You try to work with the schools. But those are more long-term solutions. Right now you have short-term problems.”
Bill Citty, Oklahoma City police chief