One more homicide reported in Chattanooga than this time last year, data shows

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Police tape of an area of the 3300 block of Dodson Avenue following a shooting on April 14.
Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Police tape of an area of the 3300 block of Dodson Avenue following a shooting on April 14.

As homicide rates fall in major U.S. cities as the pandemic eases its grip, Chattanooga is seeing a slight increase in the number of people killed through the first five months of the year.

Eleven people have been killed this year in Chattanooga as of June 11, according to Chattanooga Police Department data.

By that time last year, there had been 10 homicides in the city, compared to 13 in 2021 and 14 in 2020.

Police did see a slight uptick in homicides, and violence in general, during the first two years of the pandemic, Chattanooga police Sgt. Victor Miller said in an interview Thursday. The city reported 33 homicides in all of 2019, 34 in 2020 and 33 in 2021.

That fell to 25 homicides in 2022, according to department data — and all but one has been cleared by investigators, Miller said. So far in 2023, 82% of homicide cases have been closed, though that will likely go up, Miller said.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga police reach high homicide clearance rate, decline for other violent crimes)

In the nation's 10 largest cities, homicides have declined an average of 12% from the first two years of the pandemic, The Wall Street Journal found.

Ten of the 11 homicides reported in Chattanooga so far this year were committed using guns, Miller said. Handguns are the most common type of firearm used, he said.

The other was a case in which parents were charged for the death of their 2-year-old son, found with fentanyl in his system, according to Miller.

In Chattanooga, most homicides stem from domestic violence, drugs or robberies, Miller said. It's rare to see a completely random killing in the city, he said.

(READ MORE: Reports of most crimes down in Chattanooga in 2022, but not all)

"We are in a spot where we don't have random citizens that are just randomly victims of homicides," Miller said. "Usually, it's some type of underlying criminal element."

The pandemic also led to an increase in domestic violence nationwide and in Chattanooga, data shows. Reports of domestic assaults increased by 3% between 2021 and 2022, and the city reported at least five domestic violence homicides in 2022 compared to three the year before. None of the 11 homicides reported so far this year have been classified as domestic violence, department data shows, though experts say domestic violence tends to be underreported across the board.

Officers conduct lethality assessments when responding to domestic violence calls, Miller said, to identify what kind of threat a victim is facing.

Aside from links to other criminal activity, Miller said there aren't many uniting trends among the homicides reported in Chattanooga so far this year.

A 2022 poll of November voters conducted by the Chattanooga Times Free Press found slightly more than half of Hamilton County voters felt crime was increasing in the area. But between 2021 and 2022, most crimes aside from theft and robbery actually decreased, according to Police Department data.

(READ MORE: Voters think crime is getting worse in Chattanooga, but data says otherwise)

Miller said the perception that crime is getting worse may come from the increasing media and social media attention on specific incidents.

"In the past, it wasn't as publicized," Miller said. "And so because they're hearing it, seeing it more, they just are assuming that there's an increase. When you look at the numbers, there's no significant increase currently."

Contact Ellen Gerst at egerst@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6319.

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