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Winston-Salem homicide rate drops, new joint investigations team formed with sheriff’s office

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- The homicide rate in Winston-Salem has been cut in half compared to last year and officers think they may have an explanation. But, instead of letting up, they’re ramping up.

So far in 2019, there have been four homicides in the city. That’s compared to eight homicides at this point last year.

“You have a top-tier group of individuals who commit the majority of your violent crimes,” said Lt. Greg Dorn, of the Winston-Salem Police Department.

Investigators say the decrease they’ve experienced this year may be the result of work that’s been going on for years. Dorn says they’ve been focusing on violent offenders, who have had multiple contacts with law enforcement and have been found to be regularly armed. When one of these offenders commits a lesser crime, it’s the department’s hope they can catch them with a firearm and in turn they can get them into the federal system where they’ll face more jail time.

“And they don’t only focus on just that crime, they focus on all the individuals surrounding the people who may be committing this crime,” Dorn said.

Following acquaintances can often lead to the discovery of other crimes, which in turn allows detectives to enlist the help of other units.

“Knowing who the cohorts are, the friends, the family, the girlfriends, the associates, so that when they do commit that violent act you already know where to start at,” Sgt. Eric Johnson said.

When you look at the number of homicides committed in the city from 2000 on, most years hovered between 15 and 20. The most homicides committed in the city since 2000 was in 2007, when there were 26.

In 2012, the number of homicides dropped to a total of six, compared to 14 the previous year. However, they jumped up to 17 the following year, and finished 2016, 2017 and 2018 with 22, 21 and 25 respectively.

Detectives say they solved 90 percent of the homicides that happened in 2018, largely thanks to witnesses and members of the community who came forward.

“The citizens of Winston-Salem, I think, are fed up and getting tired of some of the situations we’re dealing with,” Dorn said.

Detectives say, when violent offenders are taken off the streets, there is often a younger generation “in the bullpen,” who then begin committing serious crimes. It’s the department’s hope that the community engagement and education they’ve engaged in will serve as a deterrent for those would-be criminals.

If not, there is a joint investigation in the works, called a Violent Firearms Investigations Team. In collaboration with the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office, detectives will be targeting specific criminals, hopefully intervening before they’re down a path to no return.

“We want to focus on those offenders before their activity elevates up to some of our most serious crimes,” Winston-Salem Police Capt. Steven Tollie said.

The team will be provided specialized training in the field of criminal investigations, including forensic evidence related to firearms investigations.

“We’re looking for a fingerprint, or unique marks, on casings,” Tollie added. “I am genuinely excited about this team.”

“The Violent Firearms Investigations Team is a true example of a force multiplier. When agencies work together -- be they local, state, or federal -- it’s a force multiplier,” Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough said. “Joint initiatives such as this contribute to the decline in violence, in drugs, in criminal activity. The only way to be successful in combating criminal activities is to build bridges, to collaborate, to multiply our efforts by working together. It does not matter what uniform we wear or what badge we hold, we serve the people and we work together to keep our community safe.”

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