Editorial: Unacceptable rise in WPB homicides requires quicker action


It is deeply troubling to see murder again on the rise in West Palm Beach. This year, 24 homicides have been reported in the city as of Friday, the most of any year in The Palm Beach Post’s database, which goes back to 2009 — and it’s only early November.

And we thought things were bad in the summer of 2015, when nine people died in the short space of two months, almost half of the 23 to be killed in the city that year.

About a third of this year’s killings have been on the city’s North End, in the impoverished neighborhoods inhabited mainly by African Americans. Almost a third of the victims were males younger than 24.

It is naive to believe that police can stop every shooting in the troubled North End. But it’s also unacceptable to concede that this terrible cycle of killing can’t be mitigated — faster.

RELATED: Neighbor heard eight shots when West Palm man slain

The most recent slaying is especially egregious — Romario Edwards, 20, a budding soccer star from Jamaica, had just led his 1-year-old daughter into their house and then returned to his parked car when he was gunned down in a spray of bullets.

“Not enough CPR in the world could have saved him,” an upstairs neighbor said.

The death toll understates the violence. As charted by Post reporter Olivia Hitchcock, gunfire has injured 12 people as well as killed two, just since Oct. 20. The mayhem has resulted in only two arrests.

The shootings stem from the drug trade, sure, but for other, depressingly mundane reasons as well: a domestic dispute, an insult. Minor provocations that used to prompt a fistfight now end in semi-automatic fire.

It’s clear that there are too many guns around and too little sense.

City officials are saying the right things. “We are laser-focused on this,” says Mayor Jeri Muoio. “Any mayor, any city official, when we get a shooting in our city, it just tears us apart. It’s just unacceptable. What are we going to do to interrupt that cycle of violence?”

Police Chief Sarah Mooney, a department veteran who was elevated to the top job 11 months ago, says more cars are on patrol, more community policing activities are underway, security cameras are all functioning (they weren’t in 2015) and detectives are “working really hard” and “have a lot of really good leads.”

In fact, she says, police have “identified suspects in a couple of [the killings], and information will be forthcoming.”

Let’s hope. Arrests can’t come soon enough.

With the death toll rising, it seems a strange time for city leaders to tout progress in long-term efforts to reduce violence, but that’s just what Muoio and Mooney did on Thursday. They held a press conference to detail what’s being accomplished by the mayor’s Village Initiative, a bushel of actions designed to offer a better path for alienated African American young men and to quiet the gunfire.

With help from Cities United, a nationwide project to cut inner-city killings in half by 2025, the city has launched initiatives that include opening dialogues between the police and community residents; connecting alienated young people with employment; and holding “Peace in the Streets” walks to engage with residents.

These are all fine endeavors, aimed at easing tensions and addressing root causes of the violence. Mooney said that they’re succeeding in getting more residents to trust police.

But they aren’t much of an answer for helping people feel safe right now.

Something is lacking between the police department’s lofty game plan, so perfect on paper, and the current, dismal results.

We hope the police department is asking itself hard questions: Are more cops needed on the street? Do hot crime zones need to be targeted more precisely? Do patrols need to be more consistent? Are security cameras equipped with the latest technology; are they, for example, picking up license plate numbers of suspicious cars?

“It really takes more than just the police,” said Mooney. “It takes family members to come forward when they see somebody stashing a gun under a bed” or residents reporting a car that’s out of place. “We’re trying to get ahead of future cases,” she said.

Fair enough. But the police are going to be judged on how quickly they get suspects off the street. Nervous — make that terrified — residents need to see that the police department can be relied upon to keep their neighborhoods from feeling like war zones.




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