In a year that saw violent crime dip more than 8 percent citywide, according to Spokane police records, the number of homicides in Spokane County remained on par with 2012.
The 12 cases that made up the 2013 homicide caseload marked an average year for Spokane going back to 1985, the first year the FBI began collecting local homicide statistics. A spike in homicides in the late 1990s was countered by a decline in the late 2000s, leaving Spokane with an average 11 homicides per year since the mid-1980s.
Most of the homicides last year were not random occurrences, police spokeswoman Monique Cotton said. And in most cases suspects were apprehended quickly by investigators.
Reached by email because he is out of the office on personal matters, Spokane police Chief Frank Straub praised the detective work of his agency in solving homicide cases, most of which could be classified as crimes of passion or tied to other illegal activity.
“Of the homicide incidents in 2013, only two of them were considered random,” Straub said.
Those two cases received significant attention from the community. Gail Gerlach shot and killed Brendon Kaluza-Graham in March during an apparent attempt to steal Gerlach’s SUV. The 57-year-old plumber faces a charge of first-degree manslaughter in the case.
In August, two teenagers allegedly beat 88-year-old World War II veteran Delbert Belton to death. One of the 16-year-old suspects, Kenan Adams-Kinard, has said the violence unfolded after a drug deal gone awry. Demetruis Glenn, also 16, has also been charged with murder in the case.
In both cases, police say, the victim and suspect did not know each other. All other homicides investigated in 2013 displayed motives that had been percolating for some time.
Investigators quickly noted the shooting death of Doug Carlile in his three-story South Hill home showed signs of intent, but few clues were made public until Timothy Suckow’s arrest this month. The arrest identified a suspect in the only Spokane homicide case from last year in which investigators hadn’t publicly named a person of interest.
“Our (Major Crimes) detectives have, as they do with every case, relentlessly followed up on leads,” Straub said.
Carlile’s death, which has been linked to business associate James Henrikson and the pair’s speculation on the oil-rich lands of the Bakken shale, was just one case where tips from the public aided an arrest.
In both the Carlile and Belton cases, Spokane police released surveillance video that led to arrests. Cotton said the department is making a concerted effort to give the public more information on its investigations, which led to several cases drawing greater media and public scrutiny.
“You’re getting more information, and that’s not a bad thing,” Cotton said. “But it’s also important to keep it in perspective.”
Based on FBI statistics, Straub said Spokane remains relatively nonviolent compared with the national average for a city its size. According to Spokane police records, the homicide rate in the city last year was around 5.18 per 100,000 residents, slightly lower than the 5.8 per 100,000 people that is the national average for cities in Spokane’s population range.
“We live in a safe city, and through their efforts, the men and women of the Spokane Police Department continue to make Spokane safer and safer each day,” Straub said.
The FBI does not tally accidental deaths or traffic fatalities as homicides. However, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office recently recommended vehicular homicide charges be brought against Preston Maher, the 16-year-old University High School student who was the driver in a double-fatality crash in Spokane Valley last fall. Josie Freier, 15, and McKenzie Mott, 16, died from injuries sustained after the vehicle Maher was driving “at highway speeds” left the roadway and struck a tree near an area known as “the Ponderosa jump,” according to investigators.
Maher is expected to make his first court appearance early next month.
Straub said his department is moving toward a precinct-based approach to make officers more visible in neighborhoods and ensure the sharing of information. Also, because of the number of homicides that result from cases of domestic violence, the department will be stepping up its education efforts in that area, he said.
“We recognize that even one homicide is one too many,” Straub said.