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Pittsburgh homicide rate increases slightly in ’16 |

Pittsburgh homicide rate increases slightly in ’16

Megan Guza
| Friday, July 1, 2016 11:50 p.m
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Latoya Lyerly is given aid Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016, by Pittsburgh paramedics at the scene of a house fire that killed three men in Homewood. Lyerly is charged with three counts of homicide for allegedly setting the fire.

Pittsburgh homicides through the first half of the year increased slightly compared with previous years in part because of a jump in double and triple homicides, data show.

In the first six months of 2016, city police investigated 28 homicides, up from an average of 22 during similar periods from 2010 through 2015, according to data from police and the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office.

During the first half of 2016, there were three double homicides and one triple homicide: Dante Dawkins, 29, and Divine Barrett, 24, were shot and killed near the Windgap industrial Park in January; Gerald Harris, 19, and his girlfriend, Isha Tyree, 20, were killed in Perry South in May; Carlton Watson Jr., 24, and Richard West-Gray, 26, were found shot to death in a car near the McKees Rocks Bridge last month.

On Feb. 17, three men — Gerald Johnson, Derlyn Vance and Calvin Turner — were killed when a woman set fire to the Homewood residence in which they were living. Latoya Lyerly is facing three counts of homicide.

Outside the city, Allegheny County Police investigators saw a similar bump in homicides compared with the first six months of 2015, when 23 were slain through June. Records for 2016 show 29 homicides, including five adults and an unborn child gunned down in Wilkinsburg in March.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. remained mum on ongoing investigations throughout the area, but said discussions so far have been heartening.

“The talks and meetings that we have had over the past 12 to 18 months have resulted in a renewed commitment by both law enforcement and the community members to put a halt to violent crime and thus far, the results are encouraging,” he said.

Pittsburgh Public Safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler said police officials are reserving comment on the numbers until the cases are analyzed.

From 2010 through 2013, there were 20 homicides in the first six months of each year. The number for that period jumped to 30 in 2014, which by year’s end saw a five-year high of 71 homicides. In 2015, there were 23 homicides in the first half of the year.

Of the 28 homicides in the city so far this year, police have cleared 12, according to police bureau information. That is about 43 percent — a number on par with an average that has been dropping during the past several decades, records show.

City police solved 131 of 256 homicides from 2010-14, a rate of 51 percent. The department closed 180 of 282 homicides from 2005-09 for a rate of 64 percent. It solved 212 of 252 slayings, or 84 percent, from 2000-04. The rate was 73 percent from 1995-99 and 80 percent from 1990-94, police records show.

Some experts locally and nationally have cited a deteriorating relationship between the community and the police as a reason for the clearance decline: Those distrustful of police likely won’t feel compelled to provide information.

Waverly Duck, an urban sociologist at the University of Pittsburgh, said the issue is likely threefold.

Those who have concrete information about a crime generally are those who were also involved in the crime, and they are not likely to cooperate with authorities.

“An issue for a lot of residents, especially communities, is they’re uncomfortable cooperating based on hearsay,” Duck said. “If they didn’t witness it or they don’t have all the details, that puts them at a disadvantage.”

Killings among associates — such as rival gangs or drug dealers — often are cases of retaliation, he said. If more homicides are solved, there could be less retaliatory violence.

“Unfortunately, sometimes people do retaliate,” he said. “They take the law into their own hands if they feel like the case isn’t going to be solved.”

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8519 or

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff reporter. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, or via Twitter .

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