Little more than 7 months into the year, there already are 37 murders, the most ever recorded in the city
Police Chief Mike McCoy downplays the problem but poses a 3-point plan.</u>
As cruel as it was, the murder was typical. The shooting of a 50-year-old man took place Tuesday on the west side of town, where many do, was likely drug-related, and left few witnesses willing to talk.
Such crimes often take place with little public notice.
But Christopher Charles' death has the dubious distinction of being Orlando's 37th murder this year, making 2006 the bloodiest year in the city's history.
In a few cases, the murders were random -- such as the woman who was shot to death during a robbery after stepping off a city bus, or the elderly woman who was stabbed to death in her Delaney Park home by an intruder. But many more were shootings involving drugs or personal disputes.
Killings in Orlando are already up 68 percent from last year's total. The previous record of 36 murders dates to 1982.
City officials say it's unclear what's causing the record-breaking number of murders. On Tuesday, Orlando police Chief Mike McCoy blamed violence among juveniles, even though the median age of victims this year is older than 30.
The bloodshed needs to stop, McCoy said. At this pace, Orlando could have more than 60 murders this year, and could join Newark, N.J., and Detroit as one of the 15 major U.S. cities with the highest murder rates. In 2004, the last year for which data are available, Orlando ranked 97th.
"Everyone is concerned. Everyone wants the same thing," McCoy said. "We just need to agree on how we're going to get there."
McCoy and others have downplayed the problem, saying that visitors to this tourism-dependent town are safe.
On Tuesday, Mayor Buddy Dyer tried to reassure some residents who confronted him at a community meeting in Dover Shores about newly proposed public venues. The murder rate will make people too afraid to come to town to use them, they said.
"We are attacking it with everything that we have," Dyer said.
Police chief's 3-point plan
Still, the deaths have mounted at an unprecedented pace. Charles was found shot to death in his car in a warehouse district west of downtown just one day after 56-year-old Lecene Germain was killed in his home near Rosemont.
Until recently, McCoy acknowledged that he had no firm strategy to combat the problem. On Tuesday, he talked about a three-point plan: boosting law enforcement, increasing community involvement and educating the public.
"It's there, and it's working," he said, but he offered few specifics on the plan, or how it might be working.
McCoy said that he hopes to replicate a news conference hosted last week by state Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando, at The Palms apartments that called for community members to brainstorm for ideas to halt crime and join in prayer. About a half-dozen residents attended.
Other cities have taken swifter action in the face of rising death tolls. The police chief in Washington announced a "crime emergency" in July, which helps boost police manpower. In Jacksonville -- which had the state's second-highest murder rate behind Miami -- the Sheriff's Office created a coalition of law enforcement, residents, prosecutors and experts to fight their problem.
There is little consensus on what causes murder rates to skyrocket, but many experts think that cities such as Boston and Chicago have successfully lowered them.
Their programs vary, but the approaches are similar: analyze why the killings take place and coordinate with local, state and federal agencies to address the causes, said David M. Kennedy, director of a crime-prevention program at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. These efforts cost little.
"It's essentially very simple," Kennedy said.
In Orlando, McCoy has consistently stressed that tourists are safe as long as they stay away from areas known for the drug trade.
"The biggest problems are drugs and drug locations," he said.
But at least half of the victims were killed in incidents unrelated to drugs, police and court records show. Motives for the killings range from domestic strife to robbery. One man was shot and killed over an unpaid basketball bet.
There are striking similarities among the dead: They're overwhelmingly black, male and killed by guns. Blacks make up slightly less than one-half of murder victims across the country. In Orlando, they make up about two-thirds of this year's dead, even though they represent 26.7 percent of the population
Patterns among the killings were striking as well:
More than three-fourths of this year's victims were killed on the city's west side. Eleven were killed in three neighborhoods: Carver Shores, Parramore and West Colonial, a stretch of commercial land.
Among those arrested on suspicion of murder, almost all have criminal records. Almost all live in Central Florida.
The killings have done little to darken the outlook in the city's most popular neighborhoods. None has taken place on International Drive -- the hub of the tourism district -- and visitors still crowd the area. Locals pack downtown's bars and clubs at night.
Those who live in neighborhoods with the highest death tolls are angry.
In the Callahan neighborhood west of downtown, Mervin Nieves, a visitor from Bronx, N.Y., was shot July 7 in front of his wife and 3-year-old boy while they were driving. No motive has been disclosed.
Linda Brown, 48, watched investigators pore through the wreckage of Nieves' car from the stoop of her house. Crime is a constant problem, she said. Brown and her boyfriend, Andrew Powell, 46, said the whole neighborhood needs to be cleaned up, and they can't do that on their own.
City Commissioner Daisy Lynum said she wants to do more. Poverty and other problems lead to crime in her district -- where 20 of this year's murders took place.
"Our environment is not a healthy one. Period," she said.
Henry Betts lost his son Henry Steven Betts II known to his friends as Steve, in March. He and his friend Christopher Yarber were shot at Steve Betts' home in Parramore. Police said they were killed by a childhood friend.
"I am disgusted by how many people -- including police and religious leaders -- haven't said anything about this," Henry Betts said.
More police on beat
Orlando officials have launched some efforts to halt crime but insist they are not in response to the body count.
Dyer plans to beef up the Police Department by 75 officers, two detectives and two new substations during the next three years. Those additional jobs are a response to the city's growth, he said.
The Police Department's Operation Restore, in which officers entered neighborhoods to target crime, yielded 127 arrests during 12 days in May and June. They also sponsored "Kicks for Guns,'' at which 116 guns were turned in -- no questions asked -- in exchange for a free pair of tennis shoes.
By contrast, Washington's "crime emergency" gave city officials the power to require that officers work overtime.
Jacksonville has had one of the state's most dramatic spikes in murders -- the city has tallied 78 so far this year, according to The Florida Times-Union. So the Sheriff's Office there launched Operation Safe Streets -- which uses data and advice from top crime experts to map out a plan.
To take illegal guns off the streets, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is offering a $1,000 bounty for anyone who tips off deputies.
Businesses -- especially those in the black community, which has been hardest hit by murders -- are mobilizing to fund and organize initiatives.
Plus, the Florida Highway Patrol will send 30 troopers this month to help. And Gov. Jeb Bush, at the request of Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton, paid $32,000 to fund Operation Road Block North, which brings troopers to the city.
Many of these strategies aren't new, Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford said. They have worked in cities such as Boston and Chicago.
"I steal stuff from everywhere I can find it," he said, "so long as it helps Jacksonville."
From the corner where Mervin Nieves was shot to death, an end to the violence seems like a pipe dream, resident Andrew Powell said. There has been too much killing.
Nieves was gunned down five blocks from where a woman was found murdered in her motel room.
Betts and Yarber were murdered 10 blocks south. Another man was shot and killed nearby on New Year's Day.
"This is going to be forgot about," Powell said, pointing to the crumpled car Nieves crashed after he was shot. "He's going to be a number."
Illustration: PHOTO: The body of 56-year-old Lecene Germain is removed from his Kitty Hawk Avenue home near Orlando's Rosemont neighborhood Monday after he was found fatally wounded, marking the city's 36th murder. Police would not release any details of the crime.
TOM BURTON/ORLANDO SENTINEL
PHOTO: Orlando police Chief Mike McCoy answers questions recently near The Palms apartments, where state Rep. Bruce Antone had a news conference. The Orlando Democrat called for community members to brainstorm for ideas on how to halt crime and to join in prayer. About a half-dozen residents attended.
PHOTO: Dan Huckabee and his wife, Cindy, work Tuesday at Kover Krete, a decorative-concrete firm on Dollins Avenue. A man was shot to death in front of their business Tuesday. `Does it make you more cautious? Absolutely,' Dan Huckabee said.
PHOTOS BY TOM BURTON/ORLANDO SENTINEL
CHART: MURDERS REPORTED TO FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF LAW ENFORCEMENT
AGENCY 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006*
ORLANDO POLICE DEPARTMENT 15 15 21 17 22 37
ORANGE COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE 27 38 38 38 49 34
SEMINOLE COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE 3 2 7 8 0 8
LAKE COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE 3 3 1 4 8 4
VOLUSIA COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE 7 6 8 10 13 2
OSCEOLA COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE 2 6 1 1 8 2
POLK COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE 12 20 16 10 6 8
* through Aug. 8
SOURCE: Florida Department of Law Enforcement; Sentinel research
NOTE: Includes willful killings that can result in criminal charges. Does not include manslaughter; justifiable, accidental or excusable homicides.
MAP: Murders in Orlando 2006
On Tuesday, Orlando marked its 37th murder of 2006, making this year the deadliest in the city's history. The previous record os 36 murders was set in 1982. Map shows the site of each murder, with some details about the vicitm.
SOURCE: Sentinel research
SHINIKO R. FLOYD/ORLANDO SENTINEL
CHART: KILLINGS ON THE RISE
Orlando on Tuesday recorded its 37th murder of 2006, eclipsing the record for the all-time high number of murders, set in 1982.
Age of victims
0 - 20: 5
Older than 50: 6
HOW THEY WERE KILLED
SOURCES: Sentinel research, Orlando Police Department