Tulsa's suicide totals during the past 16 years have fluctuated considerably, with a high of 75 in 2000 and a low of 42 in 1992.
After remaining relatively static for much of the 1990s -- when 50 to 55 Tulsans a year typically took their own life -- the number of suicides in Tulsa climbed dramatically in 2000, according to figures from the Tulsa Police Department. By 2002, the number had fallen to 54 again, but by 2004, it had climbed to 63. It dipped again in 2006 to 54 before inching up again in recent years -- 67 in 2007 and 65 in 2008.
Compared to other cities across America, Tulsa's suicide rate earlier this decade was considered one of the highest in the country. According to "Big Cities Health Inventory: The Health of Urban USA," a reported issued in 2007 by the National Association of County and City Health Officials, Tulsa's suicide rate of 14.5 per 100,000 residents for the years 2004 and 2005 ranked 15th in the country -- right behind Phoenix (14.7) and just ahead of Milwaukee (14.2) Oklahoma City's rate was 17th at 14.1. Tulsa was also well ahead of the U.S. average rate of 10.7
Among comparably sized cities in the region, Colorado Springs had the highest rate at 26.1, second in the nation, and Albuquerque, N.M., was fifth at 21.0. Wichita, Kan., was 10th at 15.2.
But several larger cities in the Great Plains region fared better. Kansas City was 29th at 12.1; Fort Worth, Texas, was 32nd at 10.9; Omaha, Neb., was 36th at 10.5; and Dallas was 38th at 10.3.
Among those reporting the lowest suicide rates were several of the nation's largest cities, such as Chicago, Detroit, New York and Boston.
Tulsa's suicide rate made headlines again late in 2008 when three Edison Preparatory School students committed suicide during the course of the year, prompting Tulsa Public Schools officials to label the situation a crisis.
But it's not always easy to determine the difference between a suicide and a homicide. According to Officer Leland Ashley, a Tulsa Police spokesman, when police receive a call about a body being found, the case is immediately assigned to a detective, who processes the scene and investigates the circumstances of the death, treating the case as a homicide -- even if there are obvious indications that the death was self-inflicted, such as a note or if the body is hanging by a rope. Upon completing his or her investigation, the detective then will make a recommendation about how the death is classified.
"If it's an apparent suicide, that's what his report will reflect," Ashley said.
But the final determination of the cause of death is not up to police, he said. After an autopsy is performed on the body, almost always within two days of its discovery, the medical examiner issues a ruling.
Tulsa police treat suicides and homicides differently in terms of their official tallies, Ashley said, though a suicide is certainly a case in which death occurs as a result of deliberate human action.
"It is what it is -- it's a suicide," Ashley said. "A homicide is when someone intentionally causes the death of another, although you do have cases of justifiable homicide. A suicide is an individual taking their own life."
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