Youngstown’s homicide rate is stable, but still far too high

There is some consolation to be taken in the fact that the number of homicides in Youngstown today is roughly half of that when the carnage peaked in the city, about 20 years ago.

In 1992, Youngstown registered 53 homicides. In 2012 it was 25.

It was in the ’90s when a Vindicator police reporter was talking to a Pittsburgh police officer about a homicide that had connections to both cities. “How many homicides has Youngstown had?” the cop asked. When the reporter gave him the number, the officer exclaimed, “that’s more than us and we’ve got Major League Baseball.” Youngstown, alas, was a major league city in only one arena, that in which one Youngstowner killed another, most often by gun. Sometimes in passion, more often as part of a drug war.

Crime statistics for homicides are recorded in incidents per 100,000 residents. Youngstown was always near the top of list, often eclipsing other “major league cities.”

Even today, Youngstown’s 25 homicides last year give the city an alarmingly high homicide rate of about 38 per 100,000 population. It’s a rate twice as high as that of Cleveland, and for all the talk that’s heard these days about murders in Chicago, the Youngstown rate is twice as high as that of the windy city, based on FBI statistics for 2011. And, yes, people are still twice as likely to be homicide victims in Youngstown as they are in Pittsburgh. Youngstown’s homicide rate is close to that of St. Louis, Mo., and Newark, N.J., and it compares favorably only to New Orleans, where homicides occur at the rate of 57 per 100,000.

So while we applaud Youngstown Police Chief Rod Foley, his predecessor, Jimmy Hughes, and the police department for five straight years of keeping the number of homicides in the city below 30, there is still obviously much more to be done. Some credit should be given, too, to the Cleveland office of the U.S. attorney, which has supported various anti-crime efforts, including those designed to get drugs and guns off the streets.

Foley said efforts are being made to focus on preventing crime, rather than just managing it. That will not only require continued vigilance by the police, but also increasing degrees of community involvement.

A slow process

Youngstown didn’t earn its unhappy status as a high-crime city overnight, and shedding it will be a long process as well.

Each of those 28 homicides ruled in the city in 2008 or the 25 last year was an individual, and any of those killings should be enough to mobilize the residents of the city in a campaign to stop violence and save lives.

But each year, it seems, there is at least one dramatic murder that horrifies the public.

In 2010 it was the Jan. 23 murder of Angeline Fimognari in the parking lot of St. Dominic Catholic Church.

In 2011 it was the Feb. 6 shooting of Jamail Johnson, 25, as he tried to resolve a dispute at an after-hours party near the Youngstown State University campus.

And last year it was the Aug. 20 murder of Bryce Linebaugh, 8, killed while he slept by a bullet fired into his Maplewood Court home.

That case was closed this week when Shawn Wilson, 21, pleaded guilty to multiple charges, including aggravated murder, and was given a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

Killing has its consequences, as Wilson learned in the courtroom of Judge R. Scott Krichbaum. But killings also have a consequence for a community, which is a lesson yet to be fully appreciated in Youngstown.

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