Two recent shootings at a Baker Plaza Drive apartment complex that left one person dead and four others injured have sparked concerns for Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and police.
The mayor and Police Chief Ricky Boren plan to tour Cross Keys Apartments, a 40-unit complex at 3815 Baker Plaza Drive, next week. It is where three people, including a Fort Benning soldier, were shot on July 26 in the parking lot, and where Markeese Hodge, 27, was shot to death and another man was injured Wednesday during a dispute at a party.
In less than a week, two other men also have died from gunshot wounds sustained in shootings in other parts of the city. John S. Jones died on Aug. 2 after he was shot at point-blank range July 31 on Buena Vista Road, and Robert Brooks was gunned down early Friday on Gleason Avenue.
At the end of June, Columbus had 11 homicides for 2014, which was one short of last year's total after six months, and overall crimes were up less than 1 percent. But last week's two shooting deaths bumped the number of homicides this year to 14. There were 22 homicides in Columbus in 2013.
The rape numbers at the six-month mark were the worst for the first half of the year since 2009, and robbery and auto theft also rose sharply.
The mayor said the tour of the Cross Keys Apartments complex will give city officials a chance to get the attention of those in charge. "If there is anything we can do to help them make the property safer, we are willing to be good partners in that," Tomlinson said Friday. "We are going to get over there and see what we can do."
The complex is owned by McCorlew Realty Inc. of Columbus, said Teresa Smith, office manager. She noted that none of the victims lived at the complex. "They were guests of other people," Smith said Friday.
Smith also said the suspect arrested in the homicide is not a tenant.
"I don't know if they are just hanging out over there or pulled in after some type of argument on the street," she said. "We don't really know what the situation was at the time. We are being very proactive to make sure that it does not happen again. We are working very closely with the police department and the detectives working the case. We are doing whatever we can to alleviate something like that happening."
Whether or not the building owner is separate from the management company, Tomlinson -- who is an attorney -- said the owner and management company have civil liability and legal responsibility if they don't have a system in place which assures some level of safety and oversight of what's going on.
"What I'm interested in is, 'What system do they have in place to provide a safe environment?' and that is what I intend to see. and maybe they will impress me with their system, and maybe these are rule breakers or whatever," the mayor said.
"Then the question becomes, 'What are you doing to see that the system you have in place is actually being enforced?' Hopefully we will have a good conversation with them. Hopefully, it will bring a higher level of security to the residents who live there and to the people who are invited there as guests."
Patrols already have been beefed up and awareness heightened in the area after the two shootings.
"When they are investigating a crime or a couple of crimes, you can bet there is going to be increased patrols and they are looking for patterns and behavior or similar people that may be people of interest they may want to talk to," Tomlinson said. "The other thing that they are going to have, because this has been a trouble spot, is they are going to have increased patrols as police respond and the criminal intelligence unit gets a better feel of what's going on."
Both supervisors of the patrol and investigative bureaus are now familiar with the apartment complex.
Maj. Gene Hillhouse said patrols have been increased in the area and anyone with information on illegal activities should call police.
Smith said McCorlew has been in Columbus 49 years and it cares about residents. "We don't want people thinking that we are not doing anything to help that situation," she said. "We do know that police do everything they can. However, there may be other issues in the area. They are really beefing it up in the area and we are very gracious that's happening."
After talking with Smith on Friday afternoon, Tomlinson recognized the company for being proactive. "Frankly, that is what I'm looking for," she said.
More 6-month crime stats
The total number of instances of homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft rose less than one percent, from 6,201 in the first half of 2013, to 6,247 in the first half of this year. Among those, rape, robbery and auto theft showed the sharpest increases. There were 25 reported rapes this year compared to 16 last year (up 56 percent), 225 robberies this year as opposed to 200 last year (up 12 percent) and 549 auto thefts this year, compared to 496 last year (up 10 percent), the report shows.
Burglaries, aggravated assaults and larceny were within a percentage point or two of last year's numbers.
At the six-month mark, homicide and larceny were the only two categories that showed a decrease over last year. Homicides were down by one before last week's three homicides. Larceny was down from 3,742 last year to 3,686 this year, about 1.5 percent.
The rape numbers are the worst for the first half of the year since 2009, when there were 30 rapes reported. That year saw 49 rapes reported in the city, records show. On average, Columbus has seen between 30 and 35 rape reports a year over the last five years.
"I hope that it reflects an increase in reporting," Tomlinson said. "I hope any woman will report any violation of themselves. I want to encourage people to report it."
-- Staff writer Mike Owen contributed to this report.