The decades-long battle against violent crime — particularly murders — in Youngstown gained ground in 2013. The number of homicides fell 18 percent from 26 in 2012 to 22 last year.
A combination of factors helps to explain that encouraging trend. As a result, we urge the new city administration of Mayor John A. McNally and Police Chief Robin Lees to hang onto some of the same effective crime-fighting tools that served former Police Chief Rod Foley well.
Despite ongoing improvements, Youngstown still has a very long way to go before it can claim victory over its mean streets. That’s why the multi-pronged and multi-agency approach used by Foley must not be mothballed. Lees, to his credit, indicates he has no plans to do so.
REASONS FOR REDUCTION IN KILLINGS
One of the most encouraging results from an extrapolation of 2013 Youngstown homicide data is the vast reduction in homicides triggered by gangs and street crime.
Lt. Doug Bobovynk of the YPD’s Detective Bureau said Foley’s strategy of vastly increasing police presence in high-crime neighborhoods — such as the South Side where nearly half of all 2013 murders took place — played a leading role in the reduction.
Advances in technology, especially in preservation of DNA, ballistic and electronic evidence, helped the city police force solve an impressive 70 percent of homicides committed last year. Rapid arrests and aggressive prosecution can go far in altering the mindset of potential violent thugs and gangbangers in the city.
Another weapon in the city’s crime-fighting arsenal that proved its worth again in 2013 is V-GRIP, the Violence Gun Reduction and Interdiction Program. The program, administered by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, combines patrols in known trouble spots with U.S. marshals and state police agencies to crack down on guns and the people who carry them.
The cooperative multi-agency program has arrested hundreds of hooligans, thereby reducing the available pool of criminals. It’s also confiscated hundreds of firearms — the weapon of choice of murderers and violent criminals.
Still another ingredient in the mix for safer streets has been the city’s Community Initiative to Reduce Violence, a partnership of law enforcement, social-service agencies, and the faith-based community designed to reduce gun violence by targeting at-risk potential gang recruits. They’ve done so through character-building programs that range from sports to drama lessons to carnivals and neighborhood camps.
REALITY CHECK ON HIGH HOMICIDE RATE
Despite the progress, more can and must be achieved. Yes, the 22 homicides in 2013 represents a 300 percent decline from the 68 recorded in the city’s peak year of 1994. But if Youngstown, a city of 65,000 people, was on par with national averages, it would be recording only four or five homicides each year.
One needn’t look far to gain perspective on the unconscionably high murder rate that still plagues Youngstown. In 2013, Akron, with a population of 199,110 — more than three times higher than that of Youngstown — recorded the exact same number of homicides as Youngstown, 22.
Therefore, the need to press on remains urgent. Strong year-round V-GRIP and CIRV programs, responsible neighborhood crime watches and authoritative parenting all can play roles. So, too, can crushing the no-snitch culture that renders crime witnesses useless.
And while the city can take pride in the accomplishments in crime reduction over the past year, there can be no stopping now. With continued hard work, vigilance and cooperation, we’re confident Youngstown’s embarrassingly high homicide rate can continue to tumble.