The July 17 double homicide on Safari Drive brought the number of murders in St. Joseph so far this year up to six.
Halfway through 2016, the city has had just one fewer homicide than all of 2015.
Kristina Buchanan, who lived in Midtown up until recently, described the uptick in violent crime as disappointing.
“You can’t help but notice it,” she said.
Buchanan, however, remains optimistic.
“I feel safe. I feel like St. Joe is still a good place for family. There are more good people on this planet than bad,” Buchanan said.
Total crime for the city is up about six percent, according to St. Joseph Police Department data. St. Joseph Police Chief Chris Connally said some types of crime have seen decreases from this time last year while others have increased.
“What citizens notice most of all is the types of crime. We’ve had some of those high-profile shootings in this first six months, and that’s disturbing to everybody,” Connally said.
Kevin Villegas Melendez, 22, and Raymond Gonzalez Ortiz, 25, died after the shooting on Safari Drive last Sunday. In May, Skylar Powell, an 18-year-old recent Benton High School graduate, died from gunshot wounds near 22nd and Calhoun streets after an alleged drug deal. Perry S. Smith, 54, died after a reported shooting in the North End in June. His neighbor is facing charges.
Richard Marion Gray, 77, died while fighting a carjacker attempting to take his van at 22nd and Messanie streets last month. And Clyda Spurgeon, 81, died in April after her grandson allegedly used a hammer to repeatedly strike her.
Charges have been filed and all five cases are going through the courts. Connally said many factors contribute to crime rates and trends. Crime numbers, he added, often don’t tell the whole picture. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting five-year trend data shows a drop in violent crime nationwide from 2010 to 2014. So far in 2016, multiple mass shootings, violent attacks against law enforcement and officer-involved shootings during traffic stops have made headlines nationwide.
“Really, what it comes down to is there is a lot of civil unrest in our community and we’re just not immune from what’s going on elsewhere,” Connally said of the rise in crime. “The message that sends us is that we just have to work twice as hard making sure our community is strong, building relationships and doing what we can to have an impact in our neighborhoods.”
Buchanan recently moved from Midtown, but still owns a business located there. While living in the area of 17th and Olive streets the past few months, she and other residents reported multiple incidents of vandalism and arson.
While the number of murders has risen, other violent crimes, including robbery and theft, have dropped or are holding steady. So far this year, St. Joseph police have received 1,683 theft reports. Last year, police received a total of 3,300 reports. There have been 56 robbery reports so far for 2016. In 2015, there were a total of 87, and in 2014, a total of 92 for the year.
Buchanan said she and her neighbors have been appreciative of how much time officers have spent in their community addressing recent vandalism. Overall, she said she feels St. Joseph police have a good relationship with the community.
When it comes to lowering all types of crime, Buchanan said dialogue is imperative. She and her neighbors are forming a neighborhood watch group in response to recent crime and to get to know each other better.
“Sometimes we just have to listen to each other,” Buchanan said.
Connally said the Police Department has seen an increase in aggravated assaults, particularly those that are domestic related. Aggravated assaults accounted for more than 60 percent of violent crime reported to law enforcement nationwide in 2014, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting
Connally is hoping a new lethality assessment program — a partnership between the YWCA, Police Department and other agencies — will help decrease the number of assaults in St. Joseph.
“We hope to connect more victims to services, and our goal is to reduce repeat victimization,” Connally said.“We need to get to those before they become assaults,”
The total crimes reported in St. Joseph last month were down compared to June 2015. That same pattern was true in May. Connally said he hopes to see that downward trend continue in the coming months.
Bob and Susan Roth live across the street from where officers investigated a shots fired call last Monday on Delaware Street. Police found a vehicle and house, both with several bullet holes, and believe the incident was related to the July 17 double homicide.
The Roths have lived in their home since 1975 and have seen the neighborhood change many times. They said the closing of Noyes school had an effect, lessening the number of families in the area.
They also attribute an increase in rental properties on one block to a change in the neighborhood’s dynamic. Bob Roth said many of the renters seem nice but are typically only there for a short period of time.
As children grow up and move out of the neighborhood, that also affects the community there, he said.
“New people move in, then this will be a different neighborhood,” Bob Roth said. “I personally don’t feel less safe.”