Gulf Coast region sees drop in murders, Jackson sees rise

Published 4:27 pm Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A decrease in homicides in Harrison County allowed Mississippi’s Gulf Coast region to post a lowered murder rate in 2007.

That was not the case in Jackson, where the number of homicides rose in 2007.

Jackson had 51 homicides in 2007, a dozen more than it had in each of the past two years.

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Despite the increase, the Jackson Police Department made more murder arrests than in 2006. All but eight 2007 homicides resulted in an arrest or resolution, giving the department a clearance rate of 84 percent. That’s up from 64.2 percent in 2006.

The national average for homicide clearance in 2006 was 60.7 percent, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report.

Of those killed this past year, 43, or 84 percent, were black males, and 31 were under age 30. Men made up the majority of homicide suspects, with only three women charged with homicide.

Along the Gulf Coast, in Harrison, Jackson and Hancock counties, a total of 32 people were murdered during the year, according to statistics compiled by coroners in each county, compared to 36 homicides during 2006. In 2005, the three counties had 34 known killings between them.

The murder rate in Harrison County fell from 26 in 2006 to 15 for the year just ended.

“We’re down by 11, thank God,” said Harrison County Coroner Gary Hargrove.

While that was good news, the numbers grew in Jackson County and Hancock County.

Jackson County had 13 homicides in 2007 and nine the previous year. In Hancock, the least populated of the coastal counties, four people were murdered in 2007 compared to a single homicide in 2006 and none in 2005.

“That’s a lot for us,” Hancock County Coroner Norma Stiglet said of the 2007 figures.

Experts say it’s difficult to tell why murders may rise or fall from year to year. In Harrison County, Hargrove believes a higher police profile can be credited with the recent decline.

“More visibility on the street by police agencies, community policing … those things help a lot,” he said.

New Orleans, the bloodiest city in the country in 2006, reeling from crime in its struggle to recover from Hurricane Katrina, got even worse in 2007.

New Orleans registered 209 homicides last year, a nearly 30 percent increase from the 161 recorded in 2006.

The FBI’s rankings for 2007 will not be out until much later in the year, but New Orleans’ population is thought to be 295,450, which would mean a rate of about 71 homicides per 100,000 people.

Homicides declined in Alabama’s largest city and largest county in 2007.

Birmingham recorded 93 slayings. That was down from 109 in 2006. Jefferson County had 135, which was down from 154 the year before, law enforcement agencies reported.

Birmingham police Capt. Herman Hinton said it’s difficult to figure out why homicides rise or fall during any year.

“Anytime there is a decrease, somebody is doing something right. The police department isn’t going to take credit for that. One homicide is too many, but hopefully this downward trend will continue,” he said.

Among other Southern cities, Montgomery had 44 murders and Memphis had 161.

New York’s and Chicago’s 2007 homicide totals were the lowest in more than 40 years, and in Philadelphia, slayings dipped slightly after reaching a nine-year high in 2006. In several other big cities, homicides increased, including in Atlanta, Miami, Dallas and Baltimore.