Violence marred Dallas' 2016. The city saw 163 murders through Dec. 19, up 30 percent from the 125 murders Dallas suffered by the same day last year. While the city has come a long way since Dallas' body count peaked at 500 in 1991, the murder numbers, combined with a declining murder clearance rate, will be one of the biggest challenges to whomever replaces outgoing police chief David Brown early next year.
As one looks at Dallas' 2016 murder stats, several stark patterns, both in solved and unsolved murders, present themselves.
1. A majority of all Dallas murders, and a majority of the city's unsolved murders, happen south of I-30. — In 2016, 105 of Dallas 163 murders took place south of the city's traditional dividing line between the haves and have-nots, Interstate 30. Of those 105 murders, 57 were still unsolved as of Dec. 22. The area near I-20 and U.S. 67 alone, which sits on the edge of DPD's South Central and Southwest Patrol Divisions, saw six unsolved murders in 2016. Sherman Waters, 20, was among those killed near the intersection. Waters got into an argument on July 20 with a group of men at the Brandon Mill Luxury Apartments at 8081 Marvin D. Love Freeway. He walked away, but later came back to finish what he started. When he did, the men with whom he was arguing opened fire, killing him.
2. DPD struggled across the board to solve murders in 2016. — Each of DPD's patrol divisions, North Central excepted but we'll get to that later, solved somewhere between 42 and 62 percent of its murder cases. According to the most recently available FBI data, between 2011 and 2014, DPD's clearance rate hovered around 60 percent, so dipping down below 50 percent is a pretty big deal. It should also be noted that clearances do not equal convictions. All a case being cleared means is that a suspect was arrested or otherwise identified without the possibility of arrest — like Micah Johnson, who was killed by a DPD robot.
3. The North Central Patrol Division had a strange year. — DPD's North Central Patrol Division saw the fewest murders of any section of the city in 2016 with seven. Of those seven, however, DPD only solved one, leaving the section north of Highland Park and between U.S. 75 and I-35 with a staggering 86 percent unsolved rate. Granted, it is a very small sample size, but it's a strange statistical phenomenon none the less.
4. Ira Tobolowsky's murder is getting colder. — One of the victims of those seven North Central murders was notable Dallas attorney Ira Tobolowsky, who was burned to death in his garage in May. Shortly after his death, a friend of Tobolowsky's went on Today and declared that the murder was a "hit," executed in retribution for a defamation suit Tobolowsky filed as part of a bitter, ongoing dispute over the estate of Dallas orthodontist Richard Aubrey. No arrests have been made in the case.
5. The numbers might not be an accident. — Back in April, when breathless reports from Dallas' broadcast stations began about the rising number of murders, Scott Henson, editor of the influential Grits for Breakfast criminal justice blog, told the Observer that short-term murder rates often don't mean very much.
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"Murder rates matter, they do, but they are subject to that small number problem. They can only be interpreted, really, over time," he said. "There's a reason that the smallest poll anybody does is 400. If you're doing a political poll, no one really does less than 400 people because that's like 5 percent margin of error. Murder rates are a lot lower than that. It's just a statistically widely varying data point."
Still, there's been at least one change at DPD that could've had an effect on the department's clearance rate. Earlier this year, outgoing Dallas City Manager A.C. Gonzalez reassigned now former Assistant Dallas Police Chief Rob Sherwin from DPD's crime against persons division (CAPERS) to Dallas Animal Services in an attempt to stymie Dallas' loose dogs problem.
Sherwin left the department entirely in December to become Forney's chief of police, but before he did, he was the department's fixer. Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston blamed Gonzalez, in part, for moving Sherwin and hurting the department's clearance rate.
"I think you did a good job at CAPERS. My point was that CAPERS still needs you," he said in October. "We are trying desperately to hire more police and the city manager's plan for dealing with animals is to move two of our best cops into dealing with animal services. It is laughable. This is emblematic of the terrible management we are getting out of the current administration."