Amarillo saw an uptick in homicides in 2017, marking the highest total in a decade and the second year-over-year increase, according to a preliminary Amarillo Police Department tally.
APD reported 16 homicides for the year, which is up from 11 in 2016 and more than double the total of seven reported in 2015.
APD spokesman Sgt. Brent Barbee said the numbers may seem shocking, but he cautioned against drawing conclusions from the data. Larger cities with homicides that number in the dozens or hundreds provide more useful data, Barbee said.
“Crime statistics often bring as many questions as they do answers,” he said.
Homicide victims for the year ranged in age from eight months to 69 years.
All 16 homicides currently meet the FBI Uniform Crime Reports Program’s definition of homicide, which excludes officer-involved and justifiable killings, but Barbee said the final count could change.
Still, the 2017 tally will likely stay above the average compared to the preceding decade and signals the reversal of a downward trend.
There was an average of nearly 11 homicides per year from 2007 to 2016, according to FBI data. Amarillo’s population steadily grew by thousands during that span, but the annual number of homicides trended downward before nudging upward in 2016.
A high of 19 homicides in 2007 slid to a low of seven in 2014 and 2015.
Barbee said the emerging reversal of that trend could easily be short lived.
“Every single homicide is something to be concerned about,” Barbee said, “but I know that if we had 16 this year we could go back down to seven next year.”
Three homicides from 2017 remain unsolved, two of which happened in November.
The oldest unsolved case of the year is the death of 53-year-old Joseph Guzman. Guzman died Aug. 8 from injuries he received days earlier in a fight at his west Amarillo home, authorities said.
Also among the victims was a 3-year-old boy who police said died after being found unresponsive while under the care of a home health care professional. A grand jury eventually indicted a nurse for murder in connection with the death and she is awaiting trial, records show.
Last year was the first full calendar year with Chief Ed Drain atop the police department. He started as interim chief in July 2016, replacing Robert Taylor.
Drain’s tenure has been marked by a focus on community policing and the creation of a domestic violence coalition.
The coalition, which includes sheriff’s and prosecutor’s offices in Potter and Randall counties, was formed in 2016 after a report from an advocacy group showed a spike in domestic violence homicides.
Domestic violence homicides increased from one in 2014 to five in 2015.
The coalition includes data tracking and the use of a “lethality assessment protocol” by uniformed officers to identify victims at high risk for repeat violence and connect the victims with advocates at Family Support Services.
Barbee said authorities hope the domestic violence and community policing efforts will reduce violent crime, but he said it was too early to expect them to have a significant effect.
Community policing, he said, involves reinforcing positive interaction between young people and police and changing culture over a period of several years or decades.
“I’d love to tell everyone we have officers out in the neighborhood so now, suddenly homicides will cease,” he said, “but, realistically, it’s not going to happen because these are long-term efforts.”
The unincorporated areas of Potter County saw zero homicides, said Det. Sgt. Steve White, who oversees murder investigations in the county.
The count was down from 2016, when Potter County opened two homicide investigations. One was found to be justified, White said.
The other homicide was a murder-suicide where a mother killed herself and her three children.
“It’s just ebb and flow,” White said. “From time to time, there will be one or two that’ll pop up.”
A Randall County Sheriff’s Office spokesman said there were zero homicides in the county’s unincorporated areas in both 2017 and 2016.
Canyon police didn’t open a homicide investigation in 2017, continuing a streak that has lasted since 2012. The city has about 15,000 residents compared to 200,000 in Amarillo, according to recent population estimates.
Police in Lubbock, which has about 50,000 more residents than Amarillo, investigated 14 homicides in 2017 — eight more than last year, according to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.