Tulsa sets a new record in the number of homicides in one year

Monday, January 12th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

A record breaking year for homicides in Tulsa. Detectives originally thought the city would end the year with 67 homicides, one below the record.

However, they've now changed two deaths to homicides, which puts Tulsa at 69, the highest number of murders the city has ever seen. And yet, there are fewer detectives in the homicide division to investigate all those murders.

News on 6 crime reporter Lori Fullbright says when you walk into the homicide unit, you first notice the row of shame, people wanted for yet-to-be solved murders, followed by seats where suspects are handcuffed to the wall before getting going to mug and print.

Tulsa currently has six detectives working cases, they handle murders, suicides, stabbings, police shootings and more. More than 20 years ago when Roger Wheeler was killed by the mob, this unit had 10 detectives working cases.

Tulsa Police Sgt Mike Huff: "1981 was 68 murders. It was a busy year too, but doesn't even compare to this year."

Here's how Tulsa stacks up to other cities. Oklahoma City had fewer homicides than Tulsa last year, 56, yet more detectives at 14. San Fransisco had 71 murders and 16 detectives. San Diego had 64 homides and more than triple the number of detectives, with 25.

"I think everyone's pulling together, trying to do more, but it's not enough and that's just the bottom line." Huff says an unusually high number of gang and drug murders pushed Tulsa' murder rate up.

The good news is added technology like DNA and the fingerprint database, but doing the work to use that technology along with new court rulings and higher expectations from prosecutors, really adds to the detectives' work load. Plus, the nationwide trend is murders are harder to solve and city budgets keep getting tighter.

Experts say 20 years ago, most murders took place in a home, bar or place of work. Even gang killings back then were tied to one neighborhood, so they were easier to solve. However, Tulsa's solve rate is around 70%, still higher than the national average, but lower than a few years ago when it was 97%.

Tulsa has 19 unsolved homicides from last year. The homicide unit is getting one more person next week to temporarily work the non-fatal shootings and stabbings for three to six months.

All the detective squads are in he same boat. City cutbacks hit everywhere and actually the Mayor cut police and fire less than other areas. Plus the mayor's making money available for the police department to have a rookie class this summer, which should help down the road.