A tally of 18 homicides within all jurisdictions of Calhoun County comes close to the record of 20 committed in 2008. The previous two years were mild by comparison — six homicides in 2009 and eight in 2010.
The 18 deaths include not just domestic violence but also an increase in capital murders.
One of those capital crimes in particular rocked the Anniston Police Department and the community it serves. In August, a young patrol officer was shot and killed during a foot chase.
“It’s been a hard one, especially after losing a fellow officer,” Anniston police Lt. Fred Forsythe said. “But still, we’d never be satisfied unless we had zero homicides.”
Officials say they can’t point to any one reason for the violent year. Police with Anniston, Jacksonville and Oxford who recently sat down with The Star sifted through a list of possible contributing factors, including the still-handicapped economy, prevalence of drugs and alcohol and an increase in domestic violence issues.
The domestic violence problem is a big one, officials agree. It’s a problematic trend for both northeast Alabama and the state: A recent national study ranked Alabama as the state with the second-highest rate of men who kill women, behind only Nevada.
Local domestic-violence awareness advocates provided statistics that showed in the past 18 months, there have been six domestic violence deaths in which men are accused of killing women in northeast Alabama.
Of the 18 homicides in Calhoun County in 2011, seven have been linked to domestic incidents between family members.
Mark Lanier, a criminologist at the University of Alabama, said an increase in domestic violence is often closely tied to the economy.
“I might postulate that the tensions caused by a downturn in the economy results in increasing both the frequency and intensity of violence,” Lanier said. “If both partners are home more often since [they’re] not working then there are also more opportunities for violence.”
Still, unemployment has dropped ever so slightly — to 8 percent in November from 8.9 percent in Calhoun County the same month in 2010. Further, the recent increase in domestic violence homicides and 2011’s drastic increase in homicides in general bucks both statewide and national trends.
For the past 25 years, domestic violence homicides have been in decline across the state, in spite of Alabama’s high ranking on the national study.
A report released last fall by the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center showed that in 2010, violent crimes — including homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, decreased statewide by 10 percent. Following that trend, the number of violent crimes committed in Calhoun County — with the exception of homicides, which increased by two — dropped by 17 percent in 2010, statistics from local law-enforcement agencies show.
“But the homicides keep going up, and there’s not really anything you can do,” Oxford Lt. L.G. Owens said, other than try to step up patrol in known problem areas, ensure that residents know about domestic violence shelters like Second Chance and continue to arrest people suspected of dealing and using drugs.
“Ultimately something as silly as an argument between friends will end up changing someone’s life forever,” the lieutenant said.
Oxford saw three homicides this year, after having none for the past two and a half years.
The situation was similar in Jacksonville, police Chief Tommy Thompson said. The university town’s last homicide before the April slaying of a teacher was in 2005.
Calhoun County deputies worked two of this year’s murder investigations, and the remaining 12 killings happened within Anniston’s city limits.
“We’ve discussed this before, and it’s disheartening,” Forsythe told a Star reporter. “And this year we’ve had our share of every kind of homicide: Some are domestic and family-related, we’ve got one that’s between two people who were arguing and didn’t know each other, we’ve got some capital murders.”