COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Columbus police are identifying and charging more homicide suspects, but police say there’s still more work to be done to improve violent crime in the city.
2021 was a record year for violence in Columbus. When it ended, just under half of the city’s 204 homicides that year were solved. By the end of 2022, Columbus detectives solved 63% of that year’s homicides.
It brings hope to those whose loved ones’ murders remain unsolved.
“I’m encouraged that one day I’ll get that call saying, ‘Hey, Miss Landrum. We caught who murdered your son,'” said Victoria Landrum, whose son, Marcus Payne, was shot to death in September 2021. “I’m still going to hurt. I’m still going to be angry. But some comfort that you did something to my son and now you get to pay.”
By December 31, 2021, Columbus police solved 100 of the 204 homicides that happened in the city that year.
In 2022, Deputy Chief Smith Weir said the division was able to make changes to its homicide unit, first proposed in 2020 by Commander Robert Strausbaugh and Deputy Chief Tim Becker, now both retired.
“That really has paid off. And we’re seeing the fruits of that labor now,” said Weir. “In 2022, end year, we solved 87 of the 2022 cases out of 139 homicides.”
Weir said changes include switching from a “shift concept,” with individual detectives assigned to cases, “to more of a team concept with officers working during the day, responding on call-outs to specific incidents, but working as a team.”
He said new and veteran detectives are learning from one another.
“They’ve embraced the training, they’ve embraced new techniques, they’re more comfortable with technology,” Weir said.
But it’s not just what happens inside division headquarters that’s making a difference, Weir said.
“Our detectives and our patrol officers have done a great job in a community. There’s more trust, there’s more legitimacy,” Weir said.
The increased trust and influx of tips investigators have received over the past year is thanks, in part, to works of advocates like Mothers of Murdered Columbus Children. Landrum is a member, as is Brenda Johnson, whose son James Johnson was killed in October 2020.
“We have quarterly meetings with police and investigators,” said Johnson. “They’ve learned from us and we’ve learned from them.”
James Johnson’s killing also remains unsolved. But his mother has found hope and purpose in working to engage the community to address violent crime.
“There’s more and more homicides being solved. I’m waiting for our day, and it’s coming,” Johnson said.
Johnson said she still speaks regularly with homicide detectives about her son’s case, and is currently working on a project with police to shine a light on unsolved homicide cases.
“It’s in the beginning, and we’re working out the little glitches to it and getting it together. But hopefully I can say soon what it is,” Johnson said.
In the meantime, Johnson purchased a billboard soliciting tips in her son’s killing. It will appear next week on Sullivant Avenue.
“I’ve put flyers up, five or six different times, on every telephone pole going down Sullivant and all over the west side, and they’re getting ripped down,” Johnson said. “Apparently someone’s uncomfortable seeing my son’s face up there … So this billboard they cant pull down and throw away. My son will forever be in their face.”
Landrum said her drive to help solve violent crimes extends far beyond her own son’s death.
“I feel like everybody’s child is important,” Landrum said. “So if they do find Marcus’s murderer, I’m not just going to stop and not be involved.”
Weir said the next step for police is tackling felony assaults. There were more than 1,400 of them last year, according to Weir, with a current solve rate around 30%.