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Urban Shootings Are On The Rise, But Officials Fail To Pinpoint A Cause


When Washington, D.C., police chief Cathy Lanier organized an emergency summit this week with police chiefs from all over the country, her reason was simple. She said people are dying. Several cities, including Baltimore, Milwaukee and Houston, are seeing homicide rates that are at least 50 percent higher than last year. Chicago's murder rate is up by about 20 percent, same thing in Atlanta. And that city's police chief, George Turner, says the meeting revealed several common factors including repeat offenders.

CHIEF GEORGE TURNER: In each one of our cities, we talked about a small number of individuals that were constantly violating the law and we were re-arresting on multiple occasions. And so in the city of Atlanta, we've baked down to about 150 individuals that have been chronic repeat offenders in our city. And so we're making sure that we know where they are, trying to figure out a way to prevent them from creating any additional crime in our city.

CORNISH: Now, a survey of police chiefs done by the organizers of this meeting also found chiefs bringing up the issue of more firearms on the streets and also synthetic drugs. How much was that discussed? Is that something you talk about in Atlanta?

TURNER: Right. Well, definitely the firearm piece. When you arrive on some of these homicide scenes, you see multiple shell casings on the location of the homicides or the shootings. We're seeing multiple people being shot or being assaulted at a single location. And we think that's coming from high-capacity magazines when you see 50, 60 shell casings on a crime scene.

CORNISH: Did you and the other chiefs come to any one reason, one factor that you thought was contributing to an increase across these different cities?

TURNER: The most significant point that came out of the discussions is that we have to look at this holistically. We were able to look at all of our victims and also our perpetrators or suspects of homicides for 2015 in our city. And there was only one individual who has been arrested for felony murder finished high school, and only three of the victims had finished high school. And so when you look at the victims and then you look at the perpetrators, they look the same. They're challenged with having educational skills and also working ability that they can go out and get a legitimate job. We're seeing the increase in the number of individuals that are involved in both gangs and also drug sales where murders are up in our city. So it is important for us to look at every category. In Fulton County just this year alone, more than 69 individuals have overdosed on heroin and only five last year, in 2014, at the same time. But any time illegal drugs are being dispersed, we have violence that are increased around that as well.

CORNISH: You know, it's been almost a year since the riots in Missouri over the shooting of Michael Brown and there's been several other police-involved deaths that have gained national attention across the country. Is this part of the problem? Are police on the ground being overly cautious or pulling back?

TURNER: Well, that was one of the discussion points, but I think we look at three areas. In our city, we look at the number of stops that our officers make. We look at the number of self-initiated calls. So our officers are dispatched to 911 calls. And then also, our traffic stops. So all of those numbers are within two or three percentage points of where they were last year. So we're not seeing a slowdown or a stoppage of the number of engagements that we're seeing with our citizens. Quite frankly, if you look at what's going on, our officers have never been under the kind of scrutiny that we see now than they have ever been. And so we know, and we let them know every time that you step out of the car, that you put this uniform on, you're going to be looked at. You're going to be recorded. And so you need to do the three things that we have as our values. And that's our integrity and professionalism, and be dedicated to what you've been called to do.

CORNISH: Atlanta police chief George Turner. He was at yesterday's emergency summit hosted by the Major Cities Chiefs Association.

Thank you so much for speaking with us.

TURNER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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