The WAAY 31 I-Team is examining perception versus reality when it comes to crime in Huntsville. We asked people in Huntsville if they think violent crime in the past 5 years has increased or decreased.
Here are their answers:
"I really have no idea."
"I'd probably say up."
"I think it's went up."
"It's been about the same."
Those answers - which are both right and wrong - frustrate Huntsville police, who say they're proactively fighting crime and point to drops in the most violent crimes.
Huntsville police shared with us the number of homicides in Huntsville dating back to 2013. Last year was a record year with 28 homicides being the highest in the city's history.
"You don't think it's going to happen to you, and I lived in South Huntsville. Like, it doesn't matter anymore. It doesn't matter if you're from the wealthiest of families, or if you're struggling, or what community you are in," said Tammy Thornton.
Thornton said she didn't know anything about crime in Huntsville until 14 months ago, when her 17-year-old nephew, Brandon Thornton, was killed.
"It was on my patio, so it actually, literally hit home," she said.
The reality of his death changed both her life and her perception of crime in Huntsville. Now, time stands still just like a clock in her home that marks the minute Brandon died.
Thornton has a question for police in Huntsville, after her nephew became another crime stat in last year's highest-ever homicide rate.
"What are we doing to stop all this crime?" she asked.
WAAY 31 went to the commander of the Huntsville Police Department's Criminal Investigation Division, Capt. Mike Izzo, for an answer.
"To just come up with a formula on how to prevent a homicide, that would be like, to be brutally honest, like solving cancer. I don't think it's ever been done, but if it has, we would love that formula," he said.
Izzo joined the Huntsville Police Department more than 25 years ago, and said although people might think the city's becoming more dangerous, perception isn't always reality.
He gave stats that cover the last six years. Aggravated assaults are slightly up from 2013, but they were significantly down last year. The city also had a dip in robberies. Huntsville police said they think they might know why.
"We're constantly coming up with different ways and how to address. It's just problem solving. Do we sit around? Yes, we get the numbers and we look at the numbers. Then, we look and see, are there specific areas that might be a hot spot?" Izzo said.
It's not enough for Thornton, who thinks about her nephew's death every day.
"Brandon is gone. He's forgotten by some. He's remembered by some, but he's going to be a number, but before, like I said, I wasn't involved, because it didn't hit home," Thornton said.
It always hits home for Izzo.
"I can tell you right now that, and this is from my heart, nobody is just a number to us. Every crime, especially every violent crime, has a victim and has a family that's attached to that crime," he said.
The suspect in the murder of Thornton's nephew is out of jail on bond, and the case still has to be presented to a Madison County Grand Jury.
"The next time I see Brandon is when I go to heaven. That's it," Thornton said.