FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Fort Wayne police are expressing concern about this year’s number of homicides. As of September 25, 2020, there had been 37 homicides this year. That’s more than all of 2019 in total when there were 29. Police fear Fort Wayne could pass the city’s homicide record of 48 from 2016 if things don’t slow down.
“Anytime violent crime rises in a community, the community has a right to be concerned and a right to ask questions as far as what’s going on, but I don’t want the citizens of Fort Wayne to think that things are getting out of control and that murder awaits them around every corner,” said Fort Wayne Police Department Sergeant Tim Hughes, head of the homicide department.
Since the record of 48 in 2016, the number of homicides have fluctuated with 40 in 2017, 45 in 2018, 30 in 2019, and 37 in 2020 as of September 25. Hughes said FWPD has taken notice, and are aware the year’s homicide rate is approaching that of the 2016 record.
“It’s definitely possible,” he said. “We’re optimistic it’s not going to happen, but we are in reach of that.”
He emphasized that most city residents do not need to be concerned about their own wellbeing.
“In all honesty, if you’re not involved in guns, drugs, gangs or criminal activity or associating yourself with other criminals, there’s a very good probability that you’re not going to be murdered,” he explained. “So I don’t want the citizens living in fear that there’s just a murder rampage going on in the city, but we have seen a rise in it.”
So why the rapid rate of homicides? Hughes said FWPD is not certain of what’s going on, but he has formulated a theory.
“It’s hard to speculate on, but I would have to say a combination of the year starting off poorly with COVID and the lock downs, and then immediately as we were coming out of that we started seeing nationwide unrest, and then political rhetoric because this is an election year. I think all of these things combined is just fueling people’s tempers and people are boiling over and starting to explode.”
Hughes said this rise in violent crime isn’t unique to Fort Wayne. It’s happening nationwide.
“With the rate of homicides so far this year, we’ve already taken notice and have already started implementing violent crime interdiction details in areas where we’re getting reports of a lot of violence or a lot of shots fired to try and intercede some of that before it happens.”
FWPD’s Gang and Violent Crime Unit and Vice and Narcotics Unit are constantly acquiring information on and who’s beefing with who and trying to intercede before crimes happens. They’re also recovering illegal weapons and adding more patrol officers to particularly violent areas.
FWPD officers are working around all of Fort Wayne when it comes to homicides. So far this year 18 have occurred in the southeast quadrant of the city, nine in the northeast quadrant, seven in the northwest quadrant, and three in the southwest quadrant.
Of the 37 homicides through September 25, 2020, 31 have been solved equaling a clearance rate of 83 percent. Hughes noted that’s a significantly greater rate of solved homicide cases from when he took over the unit in 2018. That year 24 of 45 were solved equaling a 53 percent clearance rate.
“The ones that we haven’t solved yet are simply due to a lack of evidence and a lack of witnesses,” he said. “We noticed with the unrest that followed the George Floyd video that went viral, we definitely noticed a very drastic change in witness cooperation following that. We had several homicides after that video was released and after the nationwide unrest occurred and there were dozens of witnesses at some of these scenes and we just couldn’t get them to talk to us or cooperate with us or trust us.”
He said recently witnesses are cooperating again.
“That is unique to Fort Wayne, that the relationship that we have is strong enough to make it through that unrest and it’s starting to come back again,” he said.