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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — The City of Oklahoma City, like much of the country, has seen a remarkably deadly year.

With only two months left in 2021, the homicide numbers for the city have already ballooned past the final 12-month total for 2020, and are quickly approaching the complete yearly total for 2019.

With the shooting death of Bureisha Williams on the 24th of this month, the official number of reported homicides for OKC rose to 77, officially surpassing 2020’s final yearly count of 76.

A 78th reported homicide has already been posted since then.

This puts the city well on track to break 80 homicides in the coming days, and to pass the 2019 total of 88 homicides over the next two months, an increasingly realistic possibility given the current rate and the upcoming holiday season, which often sees a rise in many violent crimes.

According to available crime statistics from OKCPD, the last two months of the calendar saw 11 murders in 2019 and a shocking 15 murders in 2020.

“Murder” is classified as a definable subset of homicide and doesn’t include scenarios such as manslaughter or officer-involved shootings, meaning that these numbers may not even reflect the complete final homicide tally for those months. 

By far, the largest bulk of reports for this year came within the month of August, with 20 homicides reported and investigated by OKCPD, more than 25% of the year’s current total.

These grim statistics are just a small part of a much larger nationwide trend of increasing homicide numbers.

National rate

Earlier this month, the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) issued a release of provisional data from a sweeping study showing a rise in the nationwide homicide rate of a full 30% between 2019 and 2020. 

That marks the single largest jump in the homicide rate from year to year since the 1930s when reporting was sketchy at best and year-to-year rates were jumping significantly just from an increase in reliable reporting practices.

Oklahoma City Police
Oklahoma City Police Dept headquarters. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

Local reporting problems

As the reliability and accuracy of reporting continue to be of paramount importance in determining homicide rates, OKCPD’s own reporting and public disclosure of statistics has been flawed and problematic.

The police department section of okc.gov includes a “News Release Archive” that only allows access to the previous month’s worth of homicide-related press releases from the department, currently including separate releases for a misnumbered homicide and a correction to that mistake then correctly placing the report in context. Also available is a “Crime Stats” page that provides heavily simplified statistics currently extending back only to July of 2020. Public availability of any older statistics did not appear to be easily accessible.

When Free Press reached out directly to OKCPD’s Office of Media Relations to request detailed homicide information covering the past three years, we were provided with an up-to-date list of 2021 homicides but were told that the office did not have similar listings or information easily on hand for previous years, providing us instead only with final yearly totals.

Likewise, public comment on possible contributing factors and insight into the rising homicide numbers has been scarce and particularly difficult to find for Oklahoma City.

When inquiring about the possibility of the department’s Media Relations putting us in touch with anyone for analysis or comment from OKCPD, Captain Valerie Littlejohn responded simply “I do not have any further statistics or data beyond that, and I do not have an analyst to point you to. Unfortunately, we cannot speculate on why homicide numbers are higher.”

Attempts to reach local professors or members of the Criminal Justice community of OKC were similarly met with silence.

Nationally stumped so far

For insight into the current and continuing rise in homicides, we can only turn to analysis of the issue on a national scale. Unsurprisingly, many are attempting to place the numbers within the larger context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There are folks currently looking at this issue to try to understand better the role of the pandemic in this increase,” said the NCHS’s Chief of Mortality Statistics Dr. Robert Anderson in a conversation with CNN that can be read in full on the CDC’s website alongside their national report. “There certainly seems to be a correlation between the two, but as we know, correlation is not causation. It’s going to require some, I think, fairly intensive research to try to sort it all out.”

Last Updated October 29, 2021, 11:41 AM by Brett Dickerson – Editor