Spokane Police investigate 17 homicides this year so far

SPOKANE, Wash. — The Spokane Police Department is tracking a disturbing trend. This year, 17 homicides have been reported in the city. Last year, Spokane officers investigated seven.

The department said the most homicides in the past 25 years happened in 2002 and 1995. Both years, police investigated 23. Police believe many factors are involved in this year’s number, such as effects of the pandemic.

“It’s difficult to put a finger on it especially from one year where we have a significant number more than a year where we had less,” said Sgt. Terry Preuninger with the Spokane Police Department.

“One of those large ones is school and right now, you have a lot of people that are not involved in school,” Preuninger said. “The pandemic has affected employment and it has affected the economy. Those could put stresses on people that could again, indirectly, be causes of this.”

Preuninger said the reduction in jail populations could possibly be another factor.

“You’ve also got a problem right now where our local jail population is reduced by about 50% and state correctional institutions are trying to and have been drastically reducing their populations because of the pandemic,” he explained.

It’s not known if the people arrested in connection to the homicides this year were recently released from jail.

“If we were to go through each one of these different suspects and look at their criminal history, we would probably find that some of these people have a history and have committed crimes previous to the homicide dates,” Preuninger explained “and again, incarceration may or may not have made a difference.”

The Spokane Police Department broke down potential motives behind the homicides. Of the 17, police said seven appear to be connected to domestic violence.

“With the ongoing school closures, with the financial hardships that people are facing, all of those issues which really break down as a risk factors when you talk about prevention are just compounding this issue,” said Annie Murphey, Executive Director of the Spokane Regional Domestic Violence Coalition.

She said reporting is also different this year. Murphey said people aren’t accessing the courts the same way and the system to get a protection order isn’t operating the same way.

Murphey said reports of domestic violence is down, but it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. She said many cases go unreported.

“The coalition has been doing a lot of work and that we would love to see these numbers going down,” Murphey explained. “However, in this current environment, it’s unclear if we will see a reduction right now or if we’ll continue to increase.”

As for the other homicides, Preuninger said five appear to stem from drugs, stolen property or debt. Three are believed to be gang-related and two are unknown. Of the 17, police said they’ve solved all but three.

The number of homicides don’t include police shootings. It also doesn’t include deadly crashes where someone is criminally charged.

Preuninger said the list of motives are estimates “as some of the incidents can have multiple factors and or information not yet known to police.”

The sergeant said they’ve seen a dip in crime overall and believe it’s partially due to COVID-19. However, police said they’ve seen an increase in violent crimes, such as shootings.

“We have recently, in the last few months, had a large number of incidents where people are calling in shootings where they hear gunfire, or in fact have seen and witnessed shootings,” Preuninger said.

With the increase in homicides, Preuninger said it impacts other areas of the department.

“A lot of the other serious assaults, robberies that they would normally be investigating aren’t able to get worked,” he explained. “That gets pushed down and those are serious crimes with solvability factors.”

He added that cold cases also stay on the shelf longer if the Major Crimes detectives have to investigate current homicides.

Preuninger said the department will continue to be reactive to the violence, but also be as proactive as possible.


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