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You will not find any of the murders committed in Huntsville last year on a revised version of Unsolved Mysteries on Netflix.
According to the 2021 Huntsville Police Department report, any mysteries created by the 25 homicides investigated by police officers were solved even though there was an uptick in cases from the previous year.
“I think there were several different factors,” Deputy Police Chief Dewayne McCarver said of his department’s 100% clearance rate. The deputy chief said it helps that “we have a very good investigative division.”
“We’re broken down into major crimes and then we have violent crimes,” McCarver said. “Then we have our analytics here in the department, the NAMAC (North Alabama Multi Agency Crime Center). All of them work very closely together, even with our drug unit. The collaborative environment that we have really helps to have a much higher solvability rate than we used to.”
He also said technology, such as the availability of cameras, played a role in officers being able to solve cases.
“There are so many cameras out there, people’s cell phone cameras, cameras on businesses,” McCarver said. “People even have cameras in their cars now. The evidence is a lot more available.”
That makes cases easier to prosecute.
Another factor? Even though Huntsville had 11 more homicides than it did in 2020, the number is still low in comparison to cities of similar size, McCarver said.
In fact, Huntsville had the fewest homicides among the four largest cities in Alabama despite being the largest in population.
Birmingham had 132 homicides in 2021. Montgomery had 77 and Mobile had a record 51 homicides.
“The fewer crimes you have to solve, the more resources you can put into each one,” he said. “Right now, when we have a 100% clearance rate, that means we have no active homicides to work. We are working older cases right now.”
McCarver said the increase in homicides in the city followed what he called an anomaly year in 2020 during the height of the pandemic.
“It’s important to note that 14 (in 2020) was an extremely low year with COVID,” McCarver said. “Back in 2018, we actually had 29 homicides and they dropped during COVID. All we did was sort of go back to normal in 2021. If you compare that with our population, it’s actually a decrease in the crime rate because of our population explosion.”
Other crimes investigated
Huntsville saw a similar pattern in the number of rapes reported last year.
“In 2021, we had 151 reported rapes,” McCarver said. “In 2020, it was 142. That’s a little more than a 6% increase. If you go back to 2019, we actually had 162. We’ve had a decrease compared to that year and in 2018, when we had 164 cases.”
Homicides and rapes were the only two major crimes where reports increased from 2020.
“Robberies, we had a drastic decrease,” the deputy chief said. “In 2020, we had 213 robberies. In 2021, we dropped all the way down to 162. We actually went weeks at a time with no robberies at all. In a city this size, that’s really unbelievable.”
He attributes the drop to Huntsville’s thriving economy.
“People rob each other when they need money,” McCarver said. “When we are doing well with our economy here, we see a decrease in those. And that is what we saw.”
Aggravated assaults decreased from 1,222 in 2020 to 1,190 last year. McCarver said burglaries also dropped significantly from 962 to 766, a 20% decrease. Larceny or just general theft also decreased by 5% from 4,878 to 4,632. Motor vehicle thefts dropped from 886 to 839, which is just a little more than a 5% decrease.
“All of those crimes you see from violent crimes to the assaults, all of the different types of thefts, all of those decreased, and I think that the good living conditions in our community play a big factor in that,” McCarver said. “Again, we’re able to solve more because we have fewer of them. It snowballs to give us a lower crime rate in general.”
Huntsville police officers were able to clear 85% of drug cases, 85% of simple assault cases, 75% of aggravated assault cases, 65% of rape cases and 64% of robbery cases.
However, officers were only able to clear 44% of arson cases, 33% of larceny cases and 18% of burglary cases.
More officers needed
“Across the country, we’re dealing with a shortage of police officers,” McCarver said. “That’s across the board for a lot of different industries, not just law enforcement. Because of that, we’re having to think outside of the box and work to make sure we are being as effective as we can with the resources that we have.”
The Huntsville Police Department has about 500 officers.
“A large number of those are part-time officers,” the deputy chief said. “Some are officers who work front desk and things like that. They don’t all count into what you see out on the street.”
McCarver said the department would like to have another 40 or 50 officers.
“We would like to have another 40 or 50 officers just to help us with things like staffing events,” he said. “We’re doing so many different things downtown. We want to make sure we have plenty of uniformed officers … We want people to know that we’re there. We want them to see an officer on a regular basis.”
McCarver said the department doesn’t feel like more officers are needed because crime is a problem.
“We just want to have enough officers to be able to make sure our community sees them enough, and that they feel safe when they are out doing all of the fun things we have here in Huntsville,” McCarver said.
He said the biggest challenge officers face is the city’s size. Huntsville covers more than 200 square miles, stretching from east of Monte Sano Mountain to eastern Limestone County.
“We want to make sure no matter where you’re at, even if you live out near the very western edge, that you have an officer close,” McCarver said. “That’s the biggest reason we want to expand our numbers a little bit.”