- Associated Press - Monday, January 5, 2015

MUSKEGON, Mich. (AP) - The number of homicides in Muskegon County rose to a 20-year high in 2014, prompting efforts by law enforcement agencies and community members to boost efforts to stop more killings.

The Muskegon Chronicle reported (https://bit.ly/1tJIkuP ) its tally shows 12 murders or non-negligent manslaughters in the year, not counting one shooting of an intruder by a homeowner that hasn’t resulted in criminal charges and may soon be ruled justifiable.

Muskegon and Muskegon Heights saw the most in the county. The total is up from nine homicides in 2013, excluding one justifiable homicide as well as three violent deaths classified as accidental or negligent. In 2012, Muskegon County had four non-justifiable homicides.

Still, the newspaper reports that the 2014 homicide rate for Muskegon County is only slightly higher than the statewide average.

Law-enforcement officials offered no single explanation for Muskegon County’s spike in numbers. Prosecutor D.J. Hilson mentioned “a combination of many factors,” among them high unemployment and truancy, cuts in police budgets, breakdowns in the family structure and drug-related crimes.

Muskegon Heights Police Chief Lynne Gill also mentioned the greater availability of guns on the street and the reluctance of many residents to cooperate with police. And in at least some of the street shootings in recent years, local gang rivalries are believed to have been involved.

“Although Muskegon County does not have ties to any of the large organized gangs, there are small pockets of individuals who name themselves and act like they are part of an organized group,” Hilson said. “These groups are linked to some of the violence in our community.”

Officials are working to combat crime with short-term law enforcement changes and long-term community partnerships. Those include public forums and community events and supporting efforts like the Boys and Girls Club, as well as work with agencies and churches.

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Information from: The Muskegon Chronicle, https://www.mlive.com/muskegon

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