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Syracuse homicide rate at recent high in 2013

Tom Magnarelli
The Elmwood Presbyterian Church food pantry where Jim Gifford volunteered.

The homicide rate in Syracuse was at a recent high in 2013. The city had 22 homicides in 2013, a 60 percent increase from the 13 homicides in 2012.

Sargent Tom Connellan, the public information officer for the Syracuse Police Department, said it is very difficult to predict a homicide.

"We can target gun violence, we can target a lot of other crimes, but sometimes these are just crimes of opportunity or crimes of passion. Some involved domestic related incidents. I don't want to trivialize any of these homicides because one is one too many," he said.

The Syracuse Police Department saw a 70 percent increase in gun violence throughout the first half of last year, until they launched the Syracuse Truce Program. The federally-funded program is modeled after similar and successful programs in other cities.

"We're still getting it off the ground, we're about one year into the grant right now. We'll see how the success goes. We've seen some substantial decrease in the amount of gang shootings and shots fired and overall shots fired in the city."

Seven of the homicides in 2013 were of people under the age of 21, including 17-year-old Charles Pitts, who was stabbed in downtown Syracuse after a party.

Pitts, a graduating senior, is missed at his high school. "Everyone loved him, everyone knew him from the teachers, lunch ladies, the principal, people all over knew him, he was in so many programs. He was determined to do good. He only had two months to go and he would have graduated and he would have been off to the Air Force,” said Jamie Raines, a classmate of Pitts.

Credit Tom Magnarelli / WRVO
Jim Gifford’s shirt still hangs in the food pantry where he volunteered.

Connellan says other homicides this past year became high profile because of the randomness of the attacks and the age of the offenders.

Romeo Williams, 18, was charged with first and second degree manslaughter for an assault which resulted in the death of 70-year-old Jim Gifford.

Gifford's button-down shirt still hangs on one of the shelves at the Elmwood Presbyterian Church Food Pantry where he volunteered. The other women who work there can't bear to move it.

"Quiet, but he loved a good laugh, I still can hear his chuckle," one volunteer said. "He liked people too, because he sent a lot of cards and did a lot of things that maybe people weren’t aware of.”