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Homicides in Buffalo are down through the first half of 2015

There were 12 homicides in Buffalo for the first half of 2015, down substantially from previous years for the same time period.

At this time last year, 21 people had been killed. In the first half of 2013, there were 18 homicides; and for the same period a year earlier, 20.

Police officials point out that a spike in homicides could occur at any time, but they also say they are employing various tactics to prevent deadly gang violence from erupting.

“We’re not going to get into specifics, but we have a plan in place. We have been concentrating on the worst of the worst and utilizing different initiatives that include working with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners,” Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said last week. “We are working hard to prevent a spike.”

Homicide detectives also have been solving murders at a quicker rate than in previous years. There have been five arrests in the dozen homicides so far this year, and the department’s emphasis on solving cold cases has been paying off.

“So far this year we have solved 11 homicides from past years,” Derenda said.

And while deadly violence has dropped, police say that the act of killing someone remains an unpredictable crime that can happen in tragic spurts over a matter of weeks. For example, December was the bloodiest month of last year with 12 slayings, most of them involving handguns.

“To put it in perspective, six months is a benchmark, but hopefully that trend continues over the next six months,” Chief of Detectives Dennis J. Richards said.

There is no question that the relatively peaceful landscape could change swiftly.

In the second half of 2014, there were 41 additional homicides, raising last year’s total to 62 – the second highest number of killings in the past decade.

In the second half of 2013, there were 29 more killings, for a total of 47.

And in 2012, 30 more homicides occurred in the last six months, bringing the total to 50.

The Rev. Eugene L. Pierce, who was on the advisory board that organized the Buffalo Peacemakers, said he believes that organization’s work is helping curtail bloodshed.

“The uniqueness of it is that it is boots on the ground with individuals who are paid and who volunteer going into the community and suppressing gang violence,” said Pierce, former chairman of the Public Safety-Criminal Justice Committee of the Buffalo NAACP. “The Peacemakers become part of the community, and it has proven effective.”

There are about 50 Buffalo Peacemakers and they are easy to spot at public events, wearing their yellow and black shirts emblazoned with the organization’s name. Working hand in hand with city police, they have been credited with defusing numerous situations where violence might have occurred.

In fact, they will be out in force at the city’s Fourth of July festivities at Canalside on Saturday.

“They continue to do a fabulous job for us,” Community Policing Lt. Steve Nichols said. “They are involved in a national initiative to take back street corners, and they go into schools and speak with young people who are given detention.”

As for the homicides in the first six months of 2015, the victims were three women and nine men. Half of them were 21 or younger. Ten of the individuals were black; two were white.

Seven were shot with handguns, three killed by blunt force trauma, another from strangulation and the final victim was run over by a car in Lovejoy.