POSTED ON JUNE 20, 2007:
Murder Capitol of the World?
For its size, Tulsa has a whole lotta killing going on
Feel Safe? "A good indication of the job the Tulsa police are doing is the 42 percent increase in assaults on officers this year," says the TPD. The first half of 2007 has seen 71 assaults on officers, compared to 50 by this time in 2006.
While city leaders hammer out their different approaches to fighting crime and violence (see related article), local news broadcasts seem to paint a bleak picture of the mean streets of Tulsa.
To date, there have been 31 homicides within city limits in 2007, which Corporal Gene Watkins of TPD's Major Crimes Unit said is slightly better than last year's body count of 34 by this time.
Last year wasn't particularly violent with only 56 homicides in Tulsa by year's end, he said, but only appeared as such mid-year.
"We were off to a huge start, but it slowed way down," said Watkins.
In fact, 2006 was a pretty tame year compared to the 64 murders that were committed in 2005.
Of this year's killings, Watkins said 19 were shootings.
"Usually, a lot more are shootings, but not this year," he said.
Also, he said there's usually a common theme to any given year's collection of murders, but that's also not the case for 2007.
"They're typically related to narcotics or alcohol," he said, but controlled substances haven't played as big a part this year as previously.
While violent crime seems to be standard fare on Tulsa's local news broadcasts, TPD spokesman Officer Jason Willingham said that's no reflection of the job performance of Tulsa police, and not necessarily an accurate reflection of reality, either.
"The media know what people want to watch," he said.
And with so many local news stations broadcasting what people want to watch, Willingham said crime itself isn't up in Tulsa--only coverage of it.
"Violent crime is the Number 1 concern for most people, and violent crime is up all over the country," he said.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, he's right.
For cities nationwide of comparable size to Tulsa, 2006 showed an increase in violent crime of 3.2 percent, and an increase in murder of 3.7 percent.
In Tulsa, however, Willingham said 2006 showed a 4.4 percent decrease in overall crime.
"A good indication of the job the Tulsa police are doing is the 42 percent increase in assaults on officers this year," Willingham also said.
The first half of 2007 has seen 71 assaults on officers, compared to 50 by this time in 2006.
"That's what happens when officers are out they're doing their job," he said.
"Violent crime is not a bigger problem in Tulsa than in any other comparable city--Oklahoma City is pretty similar to us," Willingham also said.
Perception vs. Reality
As far as the total number of violent crimes reported, he's correct, according to FBI stats, but not when it comes to population comparisons.
While Oklahoma City and Tulsa had similar numbers of violent crimes and murders reported for 2005 and 2006 (Tulsa was actually slightly higher, but still pretty close), Oklahoma City's population was almost 40 percent higher than Tulsa's.
So, why are we matching their violent crime and homicide rates with such a smaller population?
Watkins said it's largely, but not entirely, a question of manpower.
He said Oklahoma City cops have 12 detectives devoted solely to homicide investigations, while Tulsa has a scant eight detectives who are responsible for investigating all violent crimes, not just murder.
Watkins said Oklahoma City also has four homicide analysts to boot, while Tulsa has none.
And analysts make a big difference, he said, by finding out where the crimes are committed, who's committing them, and when, why and where repeat offenses occur.
"An analyst would help us keep more people of the street," he said.
Another major factor in preventing violent crime is being more watchful for lesser crimes, he explained, since homicide suspects and other violent criminals are often caught in the act of committing other crimes, like speeding, stealing or dealing drugs.
He said Tulsa had 12 officers working misdemeanors five years ago, but now only has three "plus some retired officers who come in and work part time."
Despite limited resources, though, Watkins said Tulsa police are far more successful in solving crimes than most other police departments in the country.
"Our solvability is a lot more than anywhere else," he said.
The national average for solved homicide cases is in the area of 38-42 percent, he said, while Tulsa's average in recent years has hovered between 70 and 80 percent.
For 2007, only four of Tulsa's 31 homicide cases are still open, Watkins said.
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