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Birmingham’s Tragic and Historic 2022 Homicide Toll, By the Numbers

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One person was killed when gunfire erupted on Birmingham's Inglenook Street Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022. (Carol Robinson)

By Carol Robinson | crobinson@al.com

Birmingham ended 2022 with the families and friends of 144 homicide victims left grieving.

The year was deadliest in recent history and only a few homicides short of being the deadliest in the Magic City’s entire history.

The city on Dec. 22 marked its 142nd homicide, making 2022 the deadliest year in Birmingham in decades.

The highest number of homicides recorded in recent memory was 141 in 1991.

The city’s all-time annual record for homicides was set in 1933 recorded when Birmingham had 148 slayings.

Birmingham went on to have two more homicides on the day after Christmas, for the grim total of 144.

The rising number of homicides comes as the city’s population in 2021 dipped to 197,575, according to Census records.

The city had a population of 259,678 in 1930 and in 1990 the city’s population was 265,968.

That means Birmingham in 2022 had a per capita homicide rate of 72.9 slayings per 100,000 people. The city had a per capita homicide rate of approximately 57 slayings per 100,000 people in 1933.

See also: Beyond the Violence: what can be done to address Birmingham’s rising homicide rate

Birmingham’s new modern record for homicides also comes after years of increased killings in the city.

Birmingham ended 2021 with 132 homicides. The 2021 tally was surpassed on Dec. 2, 2022.

The lowest number ever recorded was 56 in 1966. The last time homicides reached into the 130s was in 1994.

Though the city saw a dramatic increase, homicides in all of Jefferson County were down over 2021.

There were 194 homicides countywide in 2022, compared to 213 in 2021.

As 2022 was coming to end, murders in large U.S. cities were down more than 5 percent, the New York Times reported, compared to the same time in 2021, according to the research firm AH Datalytics.

Chicago was looking at a nearly 15 percent decrease in homicides over last year, the research firm noted, while New York was reporting a 13 percent decrease and Dallas and Boston with roughly 5 percent decreases.

But like Birmingham, not all cities, mirrored that trend.

Homicides in New Orleans were up 26 percent, Orlando 32 percent, San Antonio 66 percent, Raleigh 26 percent and Lexington 22 percent, just to name a few.

–Of the 144 homicides in Birmingham, 10 were ruled justifiable and therefore not deemed criminal. Birmingham only has to report the criminal homicides to the FBI for its annual analysis. The city had 15 justifiable homicides in 2021.

–Of the 134 criminal homicides – or murders – police reported the following regarding weapons used: 86 handguns, 21 rifles, one shotgun, 16 rifle/gun, four blunt force trauma, one knife, one “other” and four involved an unknown weapon.

–The youngest victim was 3 years old; the oldest was 83.

–The West Precinct, which is the city’s largest geographical area, recorded 55 homicides, up 37.5 percent of the 40 in 2021.

–The North Precinct had 30 homicides, a 57.9 increase over the 30 in 2021.

–The East Precinct recorded 28 homicides, a 23.4 decrease over the 37 slayings in 2021.

–The South Precinct had 21 homicides, which was the same number that took place in 2021.

–Of the 144 murders, roughly 80 remain unsolved.

–The hours of 3 p.m. until 11 p.m. proved to be the most dangerous, with 76 of the 134 murders taking place during that eight-hour stretch. Thirty-two people were killed between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m., and 26 were killed between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

–July was the deadliest month of 2022 with 17 people killed. March saw the lowest number of victims with seven.

On a positive note, he said, homicides trended downward in November and December, compared to previous years.

“Hopefully we’re starting to trend in a better direction. Time will tell,’’ Birmingham Police Chief Scott Thurmond said.

“We’ll continue to work hard and implement different things to make a difference but hopefully we’re moving in a better direction. We’ll just have to wait and see what 2023 holds for us.”

‘Homicides Have Taken Siege’

Birmingham homicide Lt. Field Morton agreed that 2022 was a tough year.

“It puts an extended caseload on our investigators,’’ Morton said. “I’ve seen these guys working tirelessly on all these cases. They all come together to do everything they can to uncover every piece of evidence out there to help find the truth.”

“Going into 2023, we’re going to look to build stronger relationships with our community,’’ Thurmond said.

“I think that when you look at the community outcry that we see on these juveniles and the phone calls we get and the anonymous tips through Crime Stoppers, we really need to try to capitalize on that more with all of the homicides. In reality, we need to recognize that all murders are senseless and if we come together, I feel like we could get a lot further a lot quicker on these investigations.”

Also frustrating, Thurmond said, is that during December, police pulled out all the stops with Operation Close Out, a year-end push to stymie crime.

“The precincts were fully staffed for each shift, Operation Close Out had large contingency of officers working every day to bring down crime in our city through the end of the year and then we have a spike of homicides the week before Christmas,’’ said. “We’re putting everything out there and it’s like it’s having no effect.”

“The flip side is if we hadn’t done that, how many more homicides would we have had?” he said. “Would we have had 18 like last December? Possibly.”

It’s not just a Birmingham problem, Thurmond said.

“Across our nation as a whole, homicides have taken siege in a lot of cities for a multitude of reasons,’’ he said.

Will fewer guns be taken off the street in 2023?

“Guns are very prevalent, and I’m very concerned about what permit-less carry is going to do to do – what the effects of that are going to be on the state of Alabama and Birmingham,’’ he said.

Beginning today, Alabama will become the latest state to allow people to carry a concealed handgun without a state permit that requires a background check. The new state law ends the requirement for a person to get a permit to legally carry a concealed handgun in public

In 2021, Birmingham police took roughly 2,700 guns off the streets, and about 2,000 in 2022.

“I’d be surprised if we break 500 next year,’’ Thurmond said.

“Right now, if you stop someone who doesn’t have a permit for a gun, they can be arrested and the gun taken and it gets the gun off the street,’’ Thurmond said. “There will be a lot more guns on the street and we have entirely too many out there as it is.”

I’ve spoken to chiefs in other cities in other states who have been permit-less carry for some time,’’ he said, “and they didn’t have anything good to say about it.”

‘It’s Just The Culture’

Aside from guns, Thurmond said another common thread in homicides in Birmingham is that in most cases people know the person who killed them.

“What we see in a majority of these is they’re somehow acquaintance-based one way or another,’’ Thurmond said. “Very seldom do we have total strangers murdered – it does happen but those are somewhat rare.”

“It’s frustrating. How does a police department get into the homes and cars to prevent the majority of these homicides?’’ the chief said. “Because when you start breaking it down, that’s the vast majority of a lot of these.”

“Most of these events are people who have a situation with another person or group of people whether it be on social media, in person,’’ he said. “People are so quick to pull a gun out to resolve all their problems. This just creates a lot bigger problems for everyone.”

“Unfortunately, it’s just the culture,’’ the chief said. “People need to use conflict resolution and some common sense. Is this really worth me killing someone? Do you hate someone so bad that you’re willing to remove someone from the face of the earth by killing them? I guess some people have that much hatred in their hearts to do that, but there are a lot of other options.”

Thurmond said people who are gainfully employed or in school are far less likely to fall victim to violence.

“They’re busy working, providing for themselves and their families and they’re able to do better,’’ he said. “They don’t have time to be involved in crime.”

The article appeared originally on AL.com