In wake of surge in homicides, Akron Police Chief notes many victims were known criminals or their associates

Headlines at the close of 2017 lamented the record number of homicides committed in both Akron and Columbus, Ohio.

On December 26, the Columbus Dispatch headlined their coverage: "Columbus breaks homicide record with 140 lives cut short so far this year"

With just days left before 2017 wraps up, the city broke a homicide record Tuesday with 140 deaths so far this year.

“We’re talking about human life,” Sgt. David Sicilian, who oversees the first-shift Columbus homicide and assault unit, said at a news conference. “We take (the toll) kind of personal. We’re sad to see the family’s response to a victim of a homicide. ... It’s terrible to investigate. It’s the most-horrible, awful thing to tell a family member someone has been killed.”

On January 1, the Akron Beacon Journal's headline announced: "Akron sees surge in homicides in 2017"

Akron is ending 2017 with a grim statistic — its highest number of homicides in decades.

The first Akronite to die at the hands of someone else this year was 17-year-old Ernest Anderson, an East high school student described by his principal as one of the best in the culinary arts program there.

Ernest was shot and killed, and another person shot and wounded, Jan. 11 at West Thornton Street and Laurel Avenue.

Forty-one other Akron homicides followed. Of those, 27 people were shot, five were stabbed, two were beaten and a family of seven died in an arson, the deadliest fire in Akron history.

The loss of human life is indeed grievous. Buckeye Firearms Association exists, at the most basic level, to help prevent the loss of innocent life by protecting potential victims' Constitutional right to bear arms for self-defense.

The Dispatch notes that "there’s a mix of reasons for the increase in homicide numbers, including the opioid epidemic, gunmen firing more rounds and the scourge of gangs setting more violence in motion."

Police have tied at least four recent homicides to a single suspect, Darnell Vinson, 20, a member of the Bomb Squad, which is a gang that consists of different sects of Bloods, according to investigators. Detectives are continuing to look at other deaths that could be linked to Vinson, Sicilian confirmed Tuesday.

Akron Police Chief Kenneth Ball addressed this situation even more pointedly:

One homicide is too many, Ball said. But most Akron homicide victims had at one time been suspects themselves in violent crimes, part of the street drug trade, gangs or hanging out with people who chose that life.

Ball went on to say that "none of those acts should be a justification for homicide," but the point is clear: it is a very small group of violent offenders which are responsible for a large percentage of violent crime convictions.

Indeed, a 2012 study commissioned by Attorney General Mike DeWine illustrated this problem, and prompted DeWine to propose legislation to keep such felons behind bars much longer.

Backed by a new study showing that a small group of repeat violent offenders is responsible for a third of all violent-crime convictions, Attorney General Mike DeWine will propose legislation to keep such felons behind bars much longer.

“We cannot afford not to lock up a three-time violent offender,” DeWine said. “We should always have room in prison for someone who might kill my daughter.”

DeWine said the study was prompted by the 2011 Dispatch series, “Target: Gun Violence,” that looked at the problem of repeat gun offenders in Columbus and statewide.

In the series, police complained that repeat gun offenders should face steadily escalating punishment, similar to drunken-driving laws.

It took DeWine more than four years to get his legislation, dubbed the Violent Career Criminal Act, took more than three years to become law. When it was finally signed into law in mid-2016, DeWine expressed his hopes for Senate Bill 97:

"The ultimate goal of this law is to protect Ohio families and reduce crime across the state. I hope that the threat of additional prison time will make offenders think twice about committing another violent crime, and those who do will pay the price," said Attorney General DeWine.

With only 18 months since the law was passed, it is probably too soon to tell how much of an impact the crime law will have, but given the observation made by Chief Ball, DeWine's bill was definitely aimed in the right direction. And more may be needed. Again, from the Beacon-Journal:

After a particularly violent weekend over the summer involving several people being shot and one killed, police beefed up the department’s gun violence reduction team, temporarily assigning two additional patrol officers to a sergeant and four officers with special training who investigate nothing but gun crime.

And through November, police had seized 729 illegal handguns. Some were found hidden under the seats of cars during traffic stops; others were confiscated during investigations.

Many of the guns had been reported stolen or had the serial numbers filed off, Ball said.

Most were taken from felons who are no longer legally permitted to own or carry firearms, the chief said, but who continually do.

Breaking that cycle would help ease gun violence, Ball and Akron Councilwoman Tara Mosley-Samples said. But Ohio’s justice system must first change.

Both Ball and Mosley-Samples want Ohioans convicted of using guns in crimes to face mandatory prison time.

Probation — which is often what someone convicted of illegally having a weapon is sentenced to — isn’t enough, Ball said.

If people knew they faced mandatory jail time, Mosley-Samples said, it would make some people stop carrying.

“People say, stop putting all these young boys in jail, until their family member is killed by one of these young boys,” Mosley-Samples said. “We’re talking about keeping people alive.”

Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Secretary and an NRA-certified firearms instructor. He is co-founder of BFA-PAC, and served as its Vice Chairman for 15 years. He is the editor of BuckeyeFirearms.org, which received the Outdoor Writers of Ohio 2013 Supporting Member Award for Best Website.

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