AKRON, Ohio — As 2021 rolled along through another year of the pandemic, there was a different worry also growing in Akron—the issue of violence.
It appeared the city was going to exceed the record for the most murders in one year, which was set in 2020 when 50 people were killed.
"We had a concern that we would at least mach last year, but we doubled down our efforts," said Akron Deputy Chief Jesse Leeser.
On Oct. 12, a 19-year-old man was shot and killed on Bernice Street, marking the city's 42nd murder.
And then, the killings stopped. Akron detectives have not been called to investigate a murder since that second week in October.
That meant at the end of 2021, there was a 16% drop in murders compared to 2020.
Leeser believes there are several reasons the violence numbers are going in the right direction.
He pointed out the decrease in murders followed a trend in which most violent crime declined last year. Robberies were down 15% and felonious assaults were down 19%.
He said a plan to address gun violence, which started in 2019, was enhanced and there was "a force multiplier" by partnering with multiple agencies, including the Summit County Sheriff's Office, the U.S Attorney's Office, ATF, FBI, DEA and Adult Parole Authority.
Leeser said Akron crime analysts also played a pivotal role by tracking neighborhoods where shots were being fired and mapping that data for officers on the streets to use.
The deputy chief said an allocation of money from Akron City Council and a $55,000 grant from the U.S. Attorney's Office allowed for extra patrols in neighborhoods.
"I think that's really where we saw a big turnaround because that's when our numbers started dropping down," Leeser said. "We have extra patrols that we put out that are focused on gun violence and we know who the people are that are committing gun violence and we know where they're at."
Police believe a record number of gun seizures in 2021 also contributed to the drop in violence.
There were 1,282 guns taken off the streets, a 36% increase from 2020 when 941 guns were seized.
"We see it's almost a direct correlation when our seizures of illegal of firearms are through the roof," Leeser said.
Overall, the number of assaults and murders with firearms and shots fired cases decreased 16% from year to year.
However, those numbers do not bring any comfort to Keesha Wilson-Law whose son, Alex Beasely, 25, was shot and killed near the University of Akron on Sept. 19.
"I live with it forever. It has not stopped for me in four months," Wilson-Law said.
Beasley died days after he was hit by bullets that were sprayed into a crowd south of campus.
University of Akron student Maya McFetridge, 18, was also killed.
The university's board of trustees offered a $50,000 reward and police released video of "persons of interest," but no one has been charged with the killings.
"Killers are still on the loose. They're still on the street," Wilson-Law said.
While Wilson-Law is glad to hear about the efforts to reduce violence in Akron, that doesn't bring her family peace.
"I would like more effort, more money or whatever needs to happen to go into helping me find out who murdered my son."
Beasley's case is among 23 unsolved Akron murders from 2021.
Lesser said detectives continue to work hard in an effort to bring justice for all of those families.
"Your heart goes out to not only the victims, but the victim's families. They suffer and suffer every day especially if the don't have closure," Lesser said.