Mobile’s homicide rate is continuing an upward spike for the second year in a row, as a handful of killings in December pushed the number of recorded murders just past 2016 levels.
In all, the Mobile Police Department recorded 46 homicides in 2017, at least 11 of which have not been solved or for which no suspect has been identified. According to crime statistics submitted annually to the FBI, that is three more murders than occurred in 2016 — a year marked by the highest homicide rate in the Port City since 1997.
Speaking to Lagniappe, Mobile Police Chief Lawrence Battiste said seeing the number of homicides “slowly creep up” this year was “concerning” for public safety officials, though he did note Mobile appears to be “following a national trend of increased violent crime.”
“We have for the past two years identified strategies that focus on the types of crime we believe have been the biggest driving force for the upward trend,” he said. “We will adjust to decrease overall incidents by helping to educate the community about what the problem is and how to assist in changing the factors that lead to the conflicts and cause the deadly incidents.”
While there was at least one murder reported in each month in 2017, the largest number occurred in June, when six homicide cases crossed MPD investigators’ desks. All six of those cases have since been closed, however.
At the end of last year, former police Chief James Barber suggested a surge in teenage gun violence was driving the number of homicides in Mobile. But while there were similar murders in 2017, Battiste pointed to another concerning pattern locally — domestic violence.“The most alarming pattern I see is the occurrence of domestic-related homicides,” he said. “Nearly a third of the deaths were domestically related, such as a dating relationship gone bad or some sort of retaliatory issue involving the former partner and a new acquaintance.”
To address those types of domestic violence incidents specifically, Battiste said MPD is looking at a “trauma-informed approach,” adding he wants the department to show the community the risk factors for not treating the trauma of violent incidents, which he said can lead to more violence.
“Our goal is to treat the trauma and let people know that retaliation is not the best solution, especially after being a victim,” he added.
Of all the homicides reported in 2017, one of the more unsettling incidents occurred just last week when an elderly man was murdered during an attempted robbery at a busy shopping center on Dauphin Street.
On Wednesday, Dec. 27, 89-year-old John Higby was killed in the parking lot of the Dauphin Square Shopping Center. Police have since determined Higby was fatally shot after a man tried to rob him and are searching for two suspects seen fleeing the area shortly after the shooting.
Another notable case was the death of Kay Raines, who was missing for months before her body was found in the woods of Baldwin County last March. Her son, Clarke Raines, was arrested and charged with her murder after detectives used a tracking device to follow him to the site of the burial.
While Battiste said the increased rate of homicides was indeed a concern for local police, he said there should be “no mistake about our efforts to deal with violent offenders.”
“While we make every effort to treat those who are victims of violent crimes, we will work equally as hard to identify those who are perpetrators of such crimes and work to have them prosecuted and sentenced to the strictest letter of the law,” he added. “We will work with our federal, state, county and local officials in ensuring that we use every legal means of punishment available. We will change the trend of violence in our community.”
On the federal level, newly appointed U.S. Attorney Richard Moore has publicly set his sights on reducing violent crime as well, saying he wants to push the initiative in the Southern District of Alabama, which is already “an aggressive, forward-leaning office” when it comes to violent crime.”
In doing so, Moore is following the lead of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who last month sent 40 additional assistant U.S. attorneys to areas facing particularly high levels of violent crime while simultaneously launching violent crime task forces in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
While Moore’s office in Mobile wasn’t among those that received additional prosecutors, the Northern District of Alabama in Birmingham was. Announcing his new nationwide Department of Justice initiative last month, Sessions said his plan would put U.S. attorneys “in the best position to impact and reduce violent crime.”
“Under this program, I am asking a great deal of our United States Attorneys,” Sessions said of the initiative. “I am both empowering them and holding them accountable for results.”
A list of the unsolved murders in Mobile can be viewed below, including the victim, their age, and date of death. Anyone with information about any of these cases is asked to contact the MPD’s homicide unit at 251-208-7211.
2017 Unsolved Murders, Mobile
Idrian Gardner, 40, Jan. 29
Bradley Huey, 21, April 28
James Hipp, 63, May 19
Derrick Buford, 43, July 12
Larry Willingham, 70, Aug. 3
Chantaye Kitt, 26, Sept. 29
Talmadge Dowdlan, 21, Oct. 5
Roderick Conner, 18, Nov. 8
Kenneth Foster, 20, Dec. 21
James Rutledge, 19, Dec. 21
John Higby, 89, Dec. 27