The past year was one of the worst in Utah's history for homicides.
According to the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification, the 64 people who were murdered represent the most killings in the state since 1979, when there were 68 homicides. Particularly disturbing is that the 2001 figures followed two consecutive years when Utah's homicide rate dropped to its lowest point in two decades. In both 1999 and 2000, there were 43 homicides.
But whatever the number, it's tragic. Numbers represent people — husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. The impact such cruel and unnecessary deaths have on immediate and extended families and even on communities is difficult to calculate. One homicide is one too many.
Particularly disconcerting is the figure for homicides due to domestic violence — 40 percent. That's the highest number since the state began keeping track in 1991.
Domestic violence, of course, also heavily impacts the law-enforcement community. These are among the most dangerous calls to which an officer can respond. Roosevelt Chief Cecil Gurr was shot and killed while responding to a domestic violence dispute July 6. Gurr, 50, wasn't even on duty that night. He was at the grocery store, but when he heard the call for backup on the police scanner he didn't hesitate to respond.
Gurr was one of two police officers killed in the line of duty last year, the first time more than one has been killed in Utah during the same year in more than 30 years.
Less than a month later, Lehi officer Joseph D. Adams, 26, was shot and killed during a routine traffic stop. Adams had stopped a suspected drunken driver in Lehi just before 11 p.m. While Adams was handcuffing the man, the man managed to grab a gun and fatally shoot him.
Salt Lake City had 17 homicides, nearly double the number in 2000 and the most since 1998, when there were 18. The toll also was heavy in Ogden, where eight homicides matched the greatest number that city has had since 1988.
For some reason, hard economic times translate into a higher murder rate. In particular, it translates into greater domestic violence. It is a trend that deserves the utmost attention of law enforcers, the courts and the community in general. No one should feel trapped in an abusive relationship.
Unfortunately, domestic violence seems to have no age parameters. Seven children were among the 26 homicides resulting from domestic abuse. Child abuse, for example, is believed to be the cause of death for both 4-month-old Isaac Austin of Ogden and 10-month-old Ranee Nieman of Salt Lake County. Women are particularly at risk in domestic violence situations. According to a survey conducted by the Utah Department of Health's violence and injury-prevention program, in the five years between 1994 and 1999, 131 women were murdered in Utah. About half of them were killed by their spouse or by someone else they knew intimately.
One of the tragic spin-offs of domestic violence is that it can become a perpetual behavior for generations. That's because children often observe what is happening. They learn violence as a means of coping with problems, and they grow up to repeat the behavior. Many of them are traumatized and deserve special care and treatment.
Society bears some responsibility for its tendency to minimize or overlook this problem. By age 18, an American child will have seen 16,000 simulated murders and 200,000 acts of violence on television, in movies and in video games. Scientific studies over the past 40 years show that observing simulated violence begets real violence.
Everyone has a duty to instill a sense of civility and moral responsibility in families, neighborhoods and communities. Taking a pro-active approach is the only way to drastically reduce those insidious homicide numbers.