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Mayor: Record low homicides in early 2015 not low enough

Columbus has seen a record low number of homicides in the first quarter of 2015, but officials say they won't be satisfied until the city is free of the violent crime.

From January to March, three homicides -- including one vehicular -- were reported.

That's the lowest number since the first quarter of 2011, which ended with two homicides.

In the three years that followed, the rate of homicides within the first quarter fluctuated.

In the first three months of 2012, eight homicides were reported; nine were reported in 2013; and five were reported in 2014.

"Our murder rate does tend to fluctuate between 15 and 22 murders a year," said Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, who also serves as the public safety director.

"Sometimes people think that when we start talking about statistics that somehow we're suggesting that there's an acceptable level of crime, and there is just not an acceptable level of murder, violent crime or crime -- period."

2015 violent crimes

Less than 24 hours into the year, the first homicide occurred at a Potomac Circle home.

Police said 26-year-old Carlos Cordero was stabbed in the left elbow, side, leg and abdomen around 5:14 p.m.

Ten hours later, he was pronounced dead in Midtown Medical Center's intensive care unit.

Zachery Holden, 20, was taken into custody at the scene and faces charges of murder and possession of a knife during the commission of a crime.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges.

On Jan. 7, Gerald Hightower Jr., 33, was shot and two others were injured at a house in the 1000 block of Calvin Avenue.

Hightower had gunshot wounds to his left upper leg and lower abdomen and died the following day at Midtown Medical Center.

Curtis Williams III, 29; Thomas Williams, 27; Christopher Gilliam, 23; Richard Gilliam, 23; Richard Stewart, 25; and Bernard Gibson, 21, pleaded not guilty to a series of charges connected to the homicide.

Authorities believe Gibson, who was making his way down the steps of the house, bumped into and shot Hightower.

On Feb. 26, 51-year-old Joe Jenkins died of trauma in the intensive care unit at Midtown Medical Center after he was involved in a 7:25 a.m. wreck at Victory Drive and Shelby Street.

According to a police report, Hannah Leonila Martin's 2003 Ford Explorer left the road, struck a sign and hit Jenkins' right fender.

Police said Martin, a dancer at Club Fetish in Columbus, admitted to having six alcoholic drinks hours prior to the wreck.

She has been charged with homicide by vehicle without malice in the first degree, reckless driving, driving under the influence, failure to maintain the lane, striking a fixed object and going too fast for conditions.

As for other violent crimes, 109 aggravated assaults reported in the first quarter are on trend with the last four years, with 110 reported aggravated assaults in 2014, 115 in 2013, 120 in 2012, and 113 in 2011, according to Part 1 crime statistics provided by the Columbus Consolidated Government.

Robberies appear to be up, with 117 reported in the first quarter compared to 87 in 2014, 109 in 2013, 73 in 2012 and 91 in 2011.

Reported rapes continue to fluctuate. There were 11 reported in the first quarter of the year, with 12 in 2014, eight in 2013, 10 in 2012 and seven in 2011.

Crime prevention

To curb crime, Sgt. Roderick Graham initiated an intelligence-led policing method in April 2014 to direct law enforcement to areas potential criminals may target.

Authorities can use patrol-officer observations, police reports, street information and witnesses' statements to predict places where armed robberies, burglaries, vehicle break-ins and other crimes may happen.

Though officials believe intelligence-led policing has helped decrease several crimes since it was implemented in 2014, Maj. Gil Slouchick said it doesn't have the power to predict murders.

He said murders usually stem from "spur-of-the-moment" incidents resulting from a tainted relationship between the attacker and the victim.

"The majority of the time in murder cases it has been proven statistically that there is some type of relationship between the parties involved," Slouchick said. "There's some type of relationship as far as friends, acquaintances, businesses partners in a drug world or something like that."

Tomlinson said the city searches for the root cause of much of the city's violence.

Within the last year, Columbus has worked with various groups to operate a Nehemiah Project.

The faith-based group works to improve opportunities for youth and families while redirecting those who may be headed to a life of crime.

Among those contributing to the cause are area school districts, the Hope Harbor domestic violence shelter, the Housing Authority of Columbus, the city's Office of Crime Prevention, the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce and other nonprofit organizations, Tomlinson said.

"We'd like to say that the low murder rate this year is related to that effort, but the truth is it's very difficult to pinpoint something such as violent crimes in Columbus, because it's so relationship-based," she said. "It's really hard to know which effort you're doing will make a difference."

The city of Columbus has also used social media to warn parents and children about the dangers that lurk at certain well-populated social events, such as house parties.

"It may sound like a lot of fun, but you need to leave immediately when things start getting reckless," Tomlinson said.

Seth Brown, the city's director of crime prevention, recently said $3 million has been allocated to local programs over the past four years in an effort to prevent crime.

He said his office targets middle schoolers.

"The term crime prevention, when people think about it, they think of active crime prevention, right now, and a lot of our stuff we're not going to see results for three to five years," he said last month.

-- Staff writer Alva James-Johnson contributed to this report.

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