Closings and delays

Number of homicides in Winston-Salem unchanged for 2014

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(Image: The Winston-Salem Journal)

The number of homicides in Winston-Salem in 2014 repeated the number that happened the previous year, and a third of last year’s cases remain unsolved, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

The city had 15 homicides in 2014 and 15 in 2013, according to Winston-Salem police statistics. Five of last year’s homicides are unsolved.

Police Lt. Steven Tollie said Friday that the 2014 homicide count is low for a city with a population of more than 234,300.

“Despite the fact we had 15 homicides last year, our goal is to have none,” Tollie said. “One homicide is one too many.”

Winston-Salem’s 15 homicides in 2014 are fewer than the 25 killings that happened last year in Greensboro, Tollie said.

District Attorney Jim O’Neill said that the city’s homicide rate appears stable.

“A crime of murder is difficult, if not impossible, to prevent and predict,” O’Neill said. “Every loss of life is tragic. These deaths are made more tragic because of the manner in which they occurred.”

Stephen Hairston, a retired city police officer and former president of the local chapter of the NAACP, said he doesn’t think police can do much to stop the killings “since most of them seem to be the spur-of-the-moment incidents.”

Police are looking for suspects in the city’s five unsolved homicides from last year, Tollie said. In one case, investigators have strong leads and have identified a suspect.

Tollie declined to identify the victim in that case, saying he didn’t want the suspect to know that police are building a case against him or her.

Investigators also are looking into four unsolved homicides from 2013, Tollie said. It is possible that those responsible for last year’s and the previous year’s killings are in jail or prison on unrelated charges, he added.

Police are working tirelessly to solve all criminal cases, especially homicide cases, O’Neill said. “Their efforts are sometimes thwarted by reluctant, uncooperative witnesses,” he said.

The city first homicide of 2014 happened on Jan. 3 when Delroy East, 38, was found lying in the trunk of a 1998 Cadillac Seville in the 2700 block of Manchester Street, police said. The car was parked outside house East was renting. Investigators said that East lived there alone.

“We don’t have a lot good leads in that case,” Tollie said.

The city’s latest homicide occurred Nov. 10 in the 2900 block of Woodleigh Street. Police investigated a domestic incident that happened near the intersection of Woodleigh and South Main streets. When officers arrived, Virgil Glenn Gilbert, 48, was lying in the front yard of home on Woodleigh Street, police said.

Gilbert suffered blunt force trauma to his head and died at the scene, police said. The Forsyth County District’s Attorney Office determined that the man fighting with Gilbert acted in self-defense when he struck Gilbert, and no charges were filed against the man whom authorities declined to publicly identify.

O’Neill pointed to his office’s Chronic Offender program that targets violent criminals as a way to help keep the homicide rate low.

The program focuses on people who have frequent contacts with law enforcement and commit felony crimes. The district attorney’s office works with law-enforcement officers to identify and aggressively prosecute those people to get them off the street.

Another trend in last year’s homicides was that 12 victims were black males and one victim was a black female, Tollie said. Several factors are behind those numbers, he said.

The availability of firearms throughout the city is a factor, Tollie said.

Homicide and other crimes mirror the socioeconomic conditions in the city’s neighborhoods, he said.

“Statistically, locally and nationwide, poorer neighborhoods have higher crime rates, whether they are homicides or other crimes,” Tollie said.

Kimya Dennis, a criminologist and sociologist at Salem College, agreed with Tollie’s view on the black homicide victims.

“Black men are disproportionately (in comparison to representation in the total population) the victims and perpetrators of this form of crime and violence,” Dennis wrote in an email.

“Crime and violence are typically intraracial (black-on-black, Asian-on-Asian, American Indian-on-American Indian, white-on-white) because of the nature of racial, ethnic and socioeconomic segregation (by choice and by social policies conducive to segregation),” Dennis wrote. “This leads people to spend substantial time around people of the same racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic group, which impacts business, leisure, and crime.”

Last year, 11 homicides involved the use of handguns, Tollie said, compared with 14 homicides in 2013 where handguns were used.

In both years, most of the handguns were not legally possessed by the offenders, Tollie said. In some cases, the shooters are convicted felons legally barred from possessing handguns, he added.

“The bottom line is that guns are so easy to obtain,” Hairston said, “But how do you stop someone from obtaining an illegal gun?”

Two homicides in 2014 were linked to domestic violence, the same number as in 2013.

People in troubled relationships might be in counseling or using other services that are keeping couples apart and reducing the number of violent situations from happening, Tollie said.

In addition, many people, especially women, are getting domestic-violence protective orders, which also might be keeping the number violent incidents down in the city, Tollie said.

Investigators sometimes never learn the reason why someone is killed in the city, O’Neill said.

“The only real source as to why the perpetrator chooses a particular victim is the perpetrator himself (or) herself,” O’Neill said. “Often, that person does not want to reveal the answer as to why.”

The answer to preventing homicides may lie in the churches in the city’s minority communities, Hairston said.

“If each church could work together and each one adopt one block to try to improve the quality of life in some of our poorest communities, that would be a start,” Hairston said.

Police also should improve the communication gap between officers and some residents in those communities, Hairston said. That would help investigators get information on suspects involved in the killings, he said.

“Many of our good citizens in the poorest communities need to step up to the plate also and try to rid the community of these violent criminals,” Hairston said.