V.I. homicide rate plummets in 2013 Murder rates around the world


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ST. THOMAS - Though the territory still yields one of the highest per capita murder rates in the nation and in the world, the numbers decreased significantly in 2013 and the Virgin Islands dropped several places in the list of deadliest places to live.

In 2013, 38 people died in homicides, four of which were vehicular homicides. Of those 38 deaths, 19 were recorded on St. Thomas, and 19 on St. Croix.

The V.I. Police Department reported 34 homicides, because it does not include vehicular homicides in its statistics, according to V.I. Police Commissioner Rodney Querrard Sr.

The territory has a population of about 106,405, according to the most recent 2010 U.S. Census, leaving it with a per capita homicide rate of about 35.5 per 100,000 people.

The territory's per capita murder rate - minus the four vehicular homicides - is 31.7.

Of the territory's 38 homicides, 32 were shootings; one was a stabbing; one was a suffocation; and four were vehicular homicides.

By comparison, the Virgin Islands had 59 homicides in 2012 and a per capita murder rate of about 56 per 100,000 people.

"The community's assistance has a lot to do with the reduction," Querrard said about the 2013 homicide rate.

Homicide in the V.I.

During the last year, the territory saw the lowest homicide rate since 2005, when it was 31.5, according to an online report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

At the time, that was a significant increase from the number of homicides in the early 2000s, when homicides numbered in the low 20s.

However, in the two years following 2005, the homicide rate jumped to 39 per 100,000, and in 2010, the territory reached an all-time high of 66 homicides, spiking the rate to about 60 homicides per 100,000 at the time.

Since 2010, the rate has fluctuated, with 48 homicides in 2011 and 59 in 2012.

National comparison

Even though the homicide rate for 2013 was cut almost in half from the previous year, the territory's per capita homicide rate still is well above the national average, which is reported as 4.7 per 100,000 people in 2012 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation's uniform crime reports of 2012.

The FBI's numbers for 2013 are not yet available, according to FBI spokesman Steven Fischer Jr.

Compared with the FBI's 2012 numbers, the territory's current homicide rate would have been in line with the murder rates of some of the largest U.S. cities, including St. Louis, Mo., which had a nearly identical per capita murder rate in 2012 - 35.4 - to the territory's current homicide rate.

Other cities with comparable rates included Baltimore, with a per capita murder rate of 34.9 per 100,000 people in 2012; Newark, N.J., with a per capita murder rate of 34.4 in 2012; and Oakland, Calif., with a per capita murder rate of 31.8 in 2012.

Caribbean comparison

Worldwide, the Caribbean region is notorious across-the-board for high homicide rates, including those reflecting murder rates, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

The most recent United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report is for 2011 and showed that the territory is more in line with the most recently reported homicide rates of Central American countries such as Guatemala, which had a per capita murder rate of 38.5; Belize, which had a per capita murder rate of 39; and Colombia, which had a per capita murder rate of 33.2.

The territory's per capita murder rate was far below some of the highest numbers reported across the globe: Honduras' reported per capita murder rate of 91.6 in 2011 and El Salvador's reported per capita murder rate of 70 in 2011.

Based on the U.N.'s 2011 numbers, the territory's homicide rate of 35.5 makes it the eighth-highest in the world.

Small-community problems

Many people in the community cannot recall a time when the territory did not struggle with crime, though some still can recall when crime did not revolve around firearms, which have greatly escalated the murder rates in recent years.

"In 1987, people were using their hands to resolve issues," said Querrard, who has been with the V.I. Police Department since 1987. "Now, we have issues that started in the school days, and then they grow up and still hold a grudge and they go and shoot them."

In the aftermath, the family and friends often retaliate, Querrard said, leading to further incidents.

"That's why we need information timely, so that we can put someone in jail so that they see that someone is being punished," Querrard said.

Still, with everyone knowing everyone, Querrard said, the stigma attached to sharing information with the police or other law enforcement officials is strong.

"They want the criminals off the street, but they are unwilling to be witnesses," said V.I. Attorney General Vincent Frazer, who also credited the community with the recent drop in murder rates.

Frazer said that he could not provide how many criminal and civil cases the office saw last year in the territory, or what the office's clearance rate of cases was in 2013, despite repeated requests for the information prior to the end of 2013.

He said that there had been a decline in the number of cases but there had been little change in what kinds of cases they had seen in 2012.

"I do think that there is a downward trend," Frazer said, referring to the territory's number of homicide cases. "We need to continue to get the word out, and the community needs to stand up."

Lack of crime data

While the territory's murder rate declined in 2013, it is unclear how well the Attorney General's Office and the V.I. Police Department are doing with the high number of cases that still exist.

The V.I. Police Department was unable to provide further information about how cases progressed once arrests were made, nor was it able to provide how many arrests were made in 2013, despite repeated requests for the information prior to the end of 2013.

The department also was unable to provide what portion of arrests were related to major crimes.

Robbery, burglary and larceny is on the rise, Querrard admitted. He pointed to the poor economy and the unregulated cash-for-gold businesses in the territory as the root of the increase.

He could not speak to other crime trends, he said, though he noted that he had requested the information from his department in the last two weeks.

Finding a solution

"One murder is one too many in any district," Querrard said.

The V.I. Police Department will continue to pursue a lower murder rate to its best ability, Querrard said, though it cannot do the task alone.

While the department is trying to enlist the help of the community as well as other agencies in pushing the territory's murder rate down, prevention is the best solution, according to University of Virgin Islands professor of Criminal Justice William Curtis.

Curtis, also the program coordinator for the Anti-Violence and Peace Initiative at the university, said that education is the best place to start.

"The victims are youth. The perpetrators are youth," said Curtis, a former director of the Special Investigation Division for the U.S. Department of Justice in the territory.

More initiatives are needed among parents and educators in order to prevent youth from turning to peers that encourage crime as a lifestyle.

"You've got kids basically raising themselves," Curtis said.

In recent years, it has become evident that the target group that is susceptible to criminal behavior is young men, namely those in their teenage years and early 20s.

"They're being lost between the seventh, eighth and ninth grades," Curtis said.

Querrard and Frazer both said police prosecutors are working with the community to help them realize that they have the power to change the direction of crime in the territory.

"Today it might be a neighbor, it might be a friend. Tomorrow, it might be you," Querrard said.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

1. Honduras - 91.6

2. El Salvador - 70.2

3. Jamaica - 41.2

4. Belize - 39.0

5. Guatemala - 38.5

6. Bahamas - 36.6

7. Colombia - 33.2

8. U.S. Virgin Islands - 31.7

9. South Africa - 30.9

10. Dominican Republic - 25.0

- Numbers are from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Report detailing murder rates from 1995-2011. With the exception of the U.S. Virgin Islands' 2013 murder rate, the numbers listed are from 2011.

Jan. 20, 2013: The bullet-riddled body of Lucas Reid Jr., 24, was found in his vehicle in the area of Jah Yard in Hospital Ground, St. Thomas.

Jan. 20: Sonny Rodriguez, 41, was gunned gown on Garden Street on St. Thomas behind the Adult Education building. Giraldy Jean-Simon, 22, was arrested and charged with his murder after he was caught trying to flee the territory at the Blyden Marine Terminal. Police believe the killing was the result of a drug deal gone bad.

Jan. 30: Meneus Plaisimon, 67, was struck and killed in Smith Bay, St. Thomas, while walking near the Texaco Gas Station. James Lettsome Sr., 47, was arrested and charged with negligent homicide in May.

Feb. 16: Winston Phillips, 24, was shot to death in the D. H. Jackson housing community on St. Croix.

March 5: The body of Jean Attingol, 38, was found with multiple gunshot wounds in the driver's seat of his pickup truck outside the old Texaco gas station near the Nadir intersection on St. Thomas.

March 17: Dave James, 49, was found shot to death on the side of Smith Bay Road on St. Thomas. Two other men were injured during the same shooting incident.

April 16: Akeem Phillips, 22, was found shot to death near Building 27 of the Mutual Homes Apartments on St. Croix.

April 20: Troy Joseph, 22, was shot to death on the UVI campus on St. Croix. He was heading to his vehicle when he began to yell that he was being robbed. Witnesses said they saw two people fleeing after shots were fired.

May 20: Vasheo Donastorg, 18, was shot while washing his car outside his home on Lime Street on St. Thomas. He died at the hospital.

May 21: Victor Manuel Otano Beltre, 38, a native of the Dominican Republic, was found shot to death in the driver's seat of a parked gray Toyota Camry on Tabor and Harmony Road on St. Thomas.

May 28: Police found the bodies of Cathy Weickel, 56, and Tammy Zolner, 43, in an Estate Smithfield home on St. Croix. Police classified it as a murder-suicide.

June 3: Andy Peters, 37, was gunned down in an SUV in the Lorraine Village parking lot between Building 5 and Building 12, miles away from his home although he was under court-ordered house arrest. Carol Barnes, 47, who was in the car with Peters but was unharmed, was arrested in October and charged with witholding information about Peters' murder. Police issue a "Wanted" poster in November for Javon Dupari, 21.

June 6: An unidentified man who police said appeared to be in his early 40s was found shot to death in a car adjacent to Coral World on St. Thomas.

June 15: Jose Bess, 21, was shot and killed in the Williams Delight housing community on St. Croix.

June 19: Police found the body of Patroy Williams, 41, on the side of the road in Estate Frydenhoj on St. Thomas.

July 4: Rosalie Figueroa, 17, was found dead in a swimming pool of an abandoned house in Lagoon Complex on St. Croix. Her family reported her missing the night before after she did not return home from an outing. An autopsy revealed that she had been either suffocated or strangled.

July 7: Sheldon Phillips, 27, was gunned down outside a party at Butler Bay Plantation on St. Croix. Police said Phillips got into an argument with another man about a parking or driving situation in the plantation parking lot and the man pulled out a gun and shot him. Elijah Ritter, 25, was arrested later in July and charged with first-degree murder.

July 8: Akim Hyndman, 32, died from gunshot wounds he sustained after being shot near Tutu Hi-Rise on St. Thomas by an unknown person on July 7. He told police he did not see who shot him.

July 9: Kenya Lawrence, 28, and her 7-year-old son, Devontae Charles, were fatally shot in their home in Estate Glynn on St. Croix. Two-year-old twin girls who were in the home at the time of the murders were unharmed.

July 11: Humphrey Balson, 61 and an inmate at Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility was stabbed to death in the prison. Inmate Ralph Brathwaite was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

Aug. 3: Ronald "Chakal" Colon, 38, was shot to death in Sunday Market Square on St. Croix and a a 59-year-old man and a 47-year-old man were wounded. Julien Viera, 21, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

Aug. 24: Gregory LeBlanc, 41, was found shot to death on Back Street on St. Thomas. Marco Colon, 23, Marley Saunders, 21, and Josiah Hodge, 20, were arrested in October and charged with second-degree murder, first-degree robbery and other assault charges.

Sept. 24: Avery Martin, 27, was shot to death on 9/24 in Hospital Ground on St. Thomas.

Sept. 27: Jose Edgardo Riveral Berrios was shot to death on Queen Cross Street in Christiansted. One man was holding another man at gunpoint and asked persons in the area to call 911, but shots were fired by the time police arrived. The shooter, an unnamed retired police officer, voluntarily surrendered his licensed firearm to police, but was not arrested or charged.

Sept. 28: Andre Christian, 27, was shot to death and Alphonso Queeman, 21, was critically wounded after a shootout near an anti-crime rally in Frenchtown on St. Thomas. Witnesses told police they saw several people quarreling before the shooting. Queeman died of his injuries days later.

Sept. 29: Leodel Isles, 30, was shot to death in Cane Bay on St. Croix.

Oct. 14: Akilah Godet, 35, and Jumore Lewis, 20, were shot to death during a fight at a bar at Coki Beach on St. Thomas. A 23-year-old man was also shot but survived.

Oct. 24: Kendall Freeman, 23, was shot to death as he sat in front of Building 13 in the Mutual Homes housing community on St. Croix.

Nov. 8: Akil Greig, 33, was shot and killed while at his job at the Motor Vehicles Bureau on St. Thomas. Shandos Powell turns himself in to police 10 days later and is charged with second-degree murder.

Nov. 10: Paul Stanislaus, 48, was struck and killed by a vehicle while crossing Queen Mary Highway on St. Croix.

Nov. 19: David Francois, 42, was shot to death at Target Wall beach on St. Croix while swimming with his wife. He decided to get out of the water, and his wife later found her husband unresponsive with a gunshot wound. She told police she did not hear any gunshots or see any people or vehicles in the area.

Nov. 24: Markim Tonge is injured while he is a passenger in a vehicle struck by Fidencio Hernandez, 60, on Veterans Drive on St. Thomas. Tonge later died of his injuries; police said Hernandez was intoxicated when he hit the vehicle Tonge was in.

Dec. 26: Alwyn Cornelius Samuel, age unknown, was shot by an unknown masked man after he arrived home in Estate Nadir on St. Thomas. The man tired to leave Samuel's yard and Samuel began to struggle with the suspect. Samuel later died at the hospital after emergency surgery on Dec. 27.

Dec. 26: Mervin Sylvester, 20, was shot to death near Building 2 in the Mutual Homes housing community on St. Croix.

Dec. 29: Jose Enrique Colon, 48, was struck and killed in an accident when police said a safari van collided with a Honda Accord near the Five Corners intersection on St. Croix and veered off the road, hitting Colon, who was walking on the sidewalk.

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