MIAMI -- Metro-Dade County police have handled more murders so far in 1988 than during all of last year, and officials Tuesday offered a host of reasons why -- from crack cocaine to the availability of guns.
In the area covered by Metro-Dade police -- most of Dade County - 231 people were murdered as of Oct. 10. That's one more than in all of 1987.
Statistics indicate there is enough time before the end of the year to make 1988 the second most murderous year in the area's history, next to 1981 when 332 people were killed.
'Domestic homicides are up. Drug homicides are up. It's up across the board,' said police spokeswoman Lucy Fitts. 'People are killing each other.'
She said the murder rate might be increasing because more guns are available, and fights can escalate quickly.
Dr. Charles Wetli, deputy chief county medical examiner, said in the early 1980s, when the murder rate soared, drug lords killed each other. Cuban refugees settled old scores from prison in their homeland.
Now, he said, many deaths stem from street-level drug dealers.
'This time, we don't seem to be seeing a lot of bodies being found in trunks of cars,' Wetli said. 'It seems to be the low-level dealers killing each other.'
Innocent people, too, have become victims.
'Now the headlines read that elderly women are being killed during burglary attempts by people wanting to get money for crack cocaine,' Wetli said.
Some police said blame the highly addictive crack cocaine for the increase in murders.
'It's the demand for crack, the desperate need for money to support the habit,' said Lt. Mike Gonzalez of the city of Miami homicide squad. 'Crack has taken hold.'
'Crack users need it right away again, because afterward they feel terrible,' said James Hall, director of Up Front Drug Information Center in Dade County. 'It is the most compulsive drug that we know of.'
In all of Dade County, statistics show 380 murders so far in 1988, compared with 284 during the same time last year.
The numbers are mixed in jurisdictions not covered by the Metro-Dade public safety department. The city of Miami reported 126 murder cases, a figure that was not reached until Nov. 2 last year. Miami Beach recorded 16 murders, compared with 14 for all of last year.
The other three cities who handle their own homicide cases - Hialeah, North Miami and North Miami Beach -- say the year has been routine.