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Homicide rate hits 4-year peak

In 6-month period, half of victims were female, a 'very different' trend

In the first six months of 2003, six of the city's 12 homicide victims were female.

In three of the six deaths, police have charged husbands or boyfriends in connection with the deaths of their loved ones.

A fourth victim was 22-year-old Jessica Kate Williams, whose body was discovered May 23 and who allegedly was killed by a group of young men and women she had met on the streets.

Those numbers are startling, said Chiquita Rollins, domestic violence coordinator for Multnomah County.

'This is a very, very different trend,' she said. 'That's a lot of young women being killed.'

Last year, 26 percent of homicide victims were female; the year before, 32 percent.

The city's midyear homicide statistic, 12 as of July 1, is the highest it has been since 1999. The year's 13th killing occurred July 7, when Andrew Mikes, 23, was shot in his car at the corner of Northeast Sandy Boulevard and 44th Avenue.

'If we stay at this rate, we'll have 27 or 28 by the end of the year,' said Sgt. Brian Schmautz, a police spokesman.

Yet, Schmautz said, homicides are impossible to forecast. As past years' statistics have showed, midyear results aren't necessarily indicators of the year-end number.

There were 10 homicides from Jan. 1 to July 1, 2002, and 23 for the year. In 2001, the midyear number also was 10 and totaled 25 at year-end. The previous year saw four homicides by July 1 and a 29-year low of 22 total for 2000. In 1999, when national crime rates were highest, Portland had 17 homicides in the first six months and 37 for the year.

Other types of crime also are on the rise citywide, Schmautz said. Robbery and aggravated assault have increased, as have nearly all property crimes. Rape is down 2 percent.

City and county leaders have responded to the recent slayings with several initiatives designed to target those vulnerable populations that they say often fall through the cracks.

The Portland Police Bureau's family services division, along with other agencies, will begin an effort today to do reach out to runaway youths in Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

The police bureau has always had a juvenile program for runaways, said Capt. Scott Winegar of the family services division, but it was mostly office-based. After Williams' death, he said, he saw a need to bring outreach workers to the places the youths are living.

'Our intent isn't to arrest them, it's to find first-time runners and find them services,' he said.

Winegar said the outreach workers consist of officers with the school police division and staff members of the nonprofit group Janus Youth Services. They will go out twice a week and hope to build trust within that community in time, he said.

In a separate effort, Multnomah County leaders are planning to open a 'safe house' program for females ages 15 to 25 who are abuse victims, drug or alcohol addicts, homeless, developmentally disabled or just in need of support.

Dr. Peter Davidson, head of the county's mental health program, said the project has been in the works for several months. The new program 'would be welcoming, very safe,' he said. 'It's about getting people to use us.' A site has not yet been selected.

Local shelters also took notice of Williams' murder and tried to provide additional services despite their tight budgets.

Beginning July 1, the Salvation Army West Women's & Children's Shelter temporarily opened an additional 30 beds for homeless women at its secure Southwest Second Avenue and Burnside Street location. The beds will stay open through August, in addition to the 40 beds the shelter provides year-round.

'It's frightening,' said Patricia Mohr, shelter director. 'This is not a good year.'

Mohr and her colleagues have to turn away nine of 10 people seeking shelter on a regular basis, she said.

She said the unemployment rate Ñ 8.5 percent in Oregon in June Ñ is one factor that in part correlates with the rise in domestic violence, but it doesn't account for the whole picture.

The state Department of Human Services has been tracking the number of women murdered statewide since 2000. In a report published last year, researchers found that the median age for women killed by an 'intimate partner' was 37 years old; a male victim's average age was 39.

Overall, women were 3.7 times more likely to be killed by an intimate partner. According to researchers, 30 percent of all homicides result from violence involving an intimate partner.