GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – The mayors of the three largest cities in the Piedmont Triad gathered to voice their shared concern about a surge in gun violence that has marked the beginning of the year – 12 deaths since Jan. 1 – but also to tout that overall crime is trending down.

Data evaluations indeed show some positive news – neither Greensboro, Winston-Salem nor High Point ranked among the worst cities for homicide rates – but those numbers can be confusing if also concerning.

“It tears you apart,” Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines said of gun deaths during a special report on WGHP. “We sure want to do something about it.”

WalletHub, the financial advice site that crunches numbers and uncovers trends, reported Tuesday that the homicide rate in 45 of the biggest cities in the U.S. decreased by an average of about 7% in 2022. To determine that, WalletHub compared per-capita homicides for the fourth quarter of 2022 vs. the same data from 2021 and 2020, and that showed some definite improvement.

Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan (left), Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines (center) and High Point Mayor Jay Wagner talk crime and homicides. (WGHP)
Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan (left), Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines (center) and High Point Mayor Jay Wagner talk crime and homicides. (WGHP)

Similarly, crime data collected by the FBI showed that, in the Piedmont Triad’s cities, violent crime ended a precipitous 4-year rise in 2021 but still has risen dramatically since 1985. From 2019 to 2020, North Carolina statewide showed a precipitous drop in violent crime.

If you remove data the Winston-Salem Police Department reported in 2020 – a statistical anomaly that included only 406 reported violent crimes and two homicides – violent crime in the cities declined by nearly 10% in 2021. Homicides grew by about two, or about 2.5%.

Those figures include crimes reported to police departments in Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point, the campus police departments at UNC-Greensboro, Wake Forest University and Winston-Salem State and sheriff’s offices in Guilford and Forsyth counties.

They show that the agencies reported 6,570 violent crimes, including 119 homicides, in 2021. That figure had risen dramatically (47.2%) from 2015 to 2019 but declined earlier in this century, including the Winston-Salem anomaly.

Homicide rates nearly doubled from 2015 to 2019 but dropped by 18.2% from 2019 to 2020, the FBI data showed. In 2000, there were 50 reported homicides, and, in 2021, there were 119.

And this year’s beginning is a cause for concern because the deaths have been in various locations and for sometimes unbelievable reasons. In High Point, five died in one family’s murder-suicide last week.

“It’s an unspeakable tragedy,” High Point Mayor Jay Wagner said. “I can’t imagine the pain that family is enduring.”

Homicide trends

To understand this issue with homicides, WalletHub evaluated the rates per capita between the last quarters of the past three years, then, by weighting the data, created a score on a 100-point basis that was used to rank the cities.

WalletHub found that the city with the worst homicide problem is Atlanta, which scored 79.06 largely because it had the highest rate of change from 2021-22 and was in the top five in the other years, too.

Source: WalletHub

Atlanta was followed by Baltimore (77.74), Detroit (70.22), Las Vegas (69.58) and Kansas City (65.37). Nearby Chesapeake, Virginia, the region where a 6-year-old recently shot his teacher, is No. 6 (62.43).

And although the Triad cities didn’t qualify for this ranking, three in North Carolina did: Raleigh (44.61) ranked No. 13, Durham (39.56) was No. 21, and Charlotte (33.78) was No. 36.

The top five for homicides per capita were Baltimore, St. Louis, Detroit, Memphis and Atlanta, with Scottsdale, Arizona, and Sacramento, California, on the bottom.

Atlanta, Kansas City, Chesapeake, Detroit and Jacksonville, Florida had the greatest increases in rates from the fourth quarter of 2021 to 2022, with St. Louis, Memphis and New Orleans at the bottom.

Chesapeake was No. 1 for the increase in homicides per capita.

What do you do?

Brian N. Williams, University of Virginia (WALLETHUB)

“Public safety, public order, and overall community wellbeing go beyond law enforcement agencies,” Brian N. Williams, a professor of public policy at the University of Virginia, told WalletHub. “Schools, youth-serving organizations, faith-based institutions, addiction treatment facilities, mental/behavioral health providers, and other human service organizations play a significant role in creating, sustaining, and safeguarding strong communities.”

He said he expected communities to create new methods for stymying the growth in homicides. “But these solutions need to be tailor-made for each community based upon their dynamics and demographics,” he said.

The Triad mayors mentioned gangs, domestic violence, mental health, family breakdown and even COVID-19 as among the causes of this growth in homicides, and they are keen to try anything to solve this.

Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan put it this way: “We can’t police our way out of gun violence. There’s a lot of ‘acquaintance crime.’”