Homicides in 9th Judicial District drop in 2006

By Sharna Johnson, Freedom Newspapers

For the second straight year, the number of area homicides dropped in 2006.
Ninth Judicial District Attorney Matt Chandler, chief law enforcement officer for Curry and Roosevelt counties, said three homicides occurred in the district in 2006 — down from six in 2005 and 12 in 2004. All three 2006 slayings took place in Clovis.

Chandler said law officers are developing strategies to reduce the numbers further.

“We have seen a tremendous decrease from 2004 (probably because of) increased law enforcement on the streets and because many of the violent offenders in the area that have continually committed crime after crime have been taken off the streets — but that’s still three too many,” Chandler said.

All three 2006 homicides, shootings within Clovis’ city limits, involved prior histories of conflict between the victims and those charged with the crimes, Chandler said.

Additionally, all had an underlying common thread of criminal activity in drugs or gang associations, Lt. Patrick Whitney of the Clovis Police Department said.

That’s a stark contrast to the three Curry County victims in 2005 — a 9-year-old boy sleeping in his bed, a 30-year-old single mother, and a 48-year-old photo salesman from Guthrie, Okla., all victims of random and unexpected acts of violence, officials said.

Whitney said cutting into street-level crime can help in diffusing and preventing things from reaching the point of murder in many instances.

“A large percentage of the homicides in this area are over some type of conflict whether it’s narcotics or some type of gang activity and we can prevent that,” Chandler said. “The number of homicides are going down largely because the law enforcement presence is more prevalent. Many times law enforcement officers stop the violence before it gets to the point of a homicide.”

Local law enforcement will be introducing new community-based initiatives in 2007 aimed at curbing street crime, which is often a contributing factor in homicide and to also aid in prosecution after crimes occur, he said.

Called community prosecution programs, they are modeled after initiatives in metropolitan areas that are working, he said.

The strategy involves a net of community-based programs, which extend to graffiti initiatives and school truancy, he said.

Building a relationship between the community and law enforcement, Chandler said, will curb crime, ultimately reducing homicide rates.

“(It’s about) letting those out there that are committing these criminal acts know that we are not just going to hand over our city; we’re going to do everything in our power to make this a safe haven,” Chandler said.

Chandler said law enforcement has been doing a good job but there’s a lot more work to do.

“We long for the day that at the end of the year review, we can stand up and say that we had a year without a homicide — we are striving for that day.”