Homicides Decrease Despite Lagging Perceptions

October 25, 2010

By Eric Steigleder


The number of homicides in the city of Richmond have been on a gradual decline since 2004, according to data from the Richmond Crime Database.

In a city that has seen widespread coverage of its violent crime problem, this continued decrease in murders comes as good news to police and citizens alike.

There were 90 recorded homicides in 2004, one of the worst in recent memory. In other words, Richmond averaged about one murder for every 2500 residents in a city of less than 200,000 people.

To put these numbers in perspective, Yonkers, New York, a city of similar size, had only fifteen murders in 2004. Irving, Texas had only ten murders in that same year.

Since then, however, that number has continually and substantially decreased.

Gene Lepley, media relations director for the Richmond Police Department, credited this marked drop to a number of factors.

 “Its the tremendous effort on the Richmond Police Department to investigate murders,” Lepley said, “and its the wonderful cooperation we’ve been getting from citizens, to give us leads and information that allow us to make the arrests.”

As Lepley suggests, these efforts have paid off. In 2005, the number of recorded murders in the city dropped to 83. In 2006, that number decreased to 72. The following year, in 2007, the number of homicides drastically dropped in 55. And in 2008, that already low total dropped again to a surprising 31.

Although there was a spike in 2009, resulting in 42 murders city-wide, these current figures remain far below those from 2004. Currently, the number of murders this year are even lower than 2009, at 32.

Yet despite the city-wide drop in homicides, certain neighborhoods are still viewed as overwhelmingly dangerous.

Nowhere is this more true than in Gilpin Court, located in North Jackson Ward.

Completed in 1943 as a housing project for low-income families, Gilpin Court has long been seen as the pariah of the city, a geographic shorthand embodying Richmond’s culture of violent crime.

However, the number of homicides in Gilpin Court has followed the same downward trend as Richmond City.

Like Richmond, the number of murders in Gilpin was substantially high in 2004, with seven total homicides reported, more than any other neighborhood in the city. Since then, murders have been on a consistent downward trend.

Indeed, between January and early October of this year, there has only been one murder in the Gilpin area, in stark contrast to just six years prior.

Lepley explained just how the RPD made such a dent  in the number of homicides in Gilpin over the past six years.

“Our 4th Precinct Commander has focused on Gilpin Court with extra resources,” he said. “The commander . . . has assigned [focused mission Team] officers to Gilpin Court periodically. And it appears so far to have worked.”

Charleen Baylor, president of the Carver Area Civic Improvement League, offered her own take as to why the number of homicides in Gilpin has fallen. Located close to Gilpin, Carver underwent its own period as a “bad neighborhood” in the mid-20th century.

“[Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority] basically empowered their own security force,” Baylor said. “To be able to actually make arrests and to enforce the rules that keep the bad element out once that element is recognized.”

However, Baylor also stated that Gilpin Court has to a large degree earned its reputation.

“Part of the perception is real,” she said, “in that, it kind of is a dangerous neighborhood when compared to other neighborhoods. And part of that is because it is an economically disadvantaged neighborhood.”

In her role as CACIL President, Baylor has attended several tenant council meetings at Gilpin Court. During these meetings, one of the people she met was tenant council president Annie Mahdee.

A long time resident of Gilpin Court, Mahdee has a different outlook on the issue of homicides.

Although she credits increased police patrols with lowering the number of murders, Mahdee does not view Gilpin as a “bad neighborhood.”

“To me, Gilpin Court is not dangerous,” she said. “I’ve been living here 40 years. I don’t feel like I’m living in danger. It’s not a bad place.”

Mahdee, however, agrees with Baylor that the lack of economic opportunities in Gilpin add to the possibility of violent crime.

As it currently stands, Richmond has a total of 32 murders this year, outpacing 2008, but still ten less than 2009. In turn, Gilpin Court has only had one murder since the first of this year, one less than the presumably “safe” Shockoe Bottom, which recently had two murders in as many weeks.

And despite widespread erroneous perceptions, Mahdee remains comfortable with her neighborhood.

“I’ve seen a lot of killing and stuff like that,” she said, “but I’m still here.”