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Homicides down in some U.S. cities, up among black youth

Carrie Antlfinger

MILWAUKEE — While New York and Chicago saw an increase in slayings last year, other cities — including Boston, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Los Angeles — had fewer violent deaths in 2008 than in 2007.

But falling crime rates across the nation have masked the rise of a troubling tide: Black teenagers are killing each other in rising numbers, according to a study released last week by Northeastern University.

Among the findings in the report by criminal justice professors James Alan Fox and Marc Swatt: an increase of more than 39 percent in the number of black males between the ages of 14 and 17 killed between 2000 and 2007, and an increase of 34 percent in the number of blacks that age group who committed homicide.

The increases for white male teens age 14-17 during that same period were nearly 17 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

“We can’t ignore the fact that hidden within the overall good news on crime, is very bad news for a segment of the population — young black males — and that needs our attention,” Fox said.

The report also noted guns were overwhelmingly the weapon of choice for young black offenders and are now used in nearly 85 percent of homicides they commit.

The statistics in Boston mirror the national numbers.

The homicide rate shows a promising trend, with the city recording 63 killings in 2008, down from 65 in 2007, 74 in 2006 and 75 in 2005. However, 64 black males between the ages of 14 and 24 were killed in Boston from 2006 to 2007, a 78 percent increase over the death toll for that population during the period from 2000 to 2001, according to the Northeastern study.

One success story revealed by the statistics came in Milwaukee. Killings dropped by a third in Wisconsin’s largest city last year, placing it among the nation’s most successful in tackling its 2008 murder rate.

According to the data from the Northeastern study, the number of black men between the ages of 15 and 29 killed in Milwaukee dropped nearly two-thirds, from 54 in 2007 to 19 last year.

Total homicides dropped 32 percent, from 105 in 2007 to 71 last year — the lowest number since 1985. The city also saw fewer gun deaths.

“I think today Milwaukee is allowed to feel good about itself because this reduction is the work of many people,” Police Chief Edward Flynn told a news conference. “This year they saw a return on their investment.”

While the nation’s preliminary crime statistics won’t be released by the FBI until spring, a review of unofficial figures released by 25 of the 52 police departments in cities with a population of over 350,000 showed 15 of the 25 had fewer slayings last year than in 2007.

Detroit had 344 slayings, a 13 percent drop from the 396 in 2007; Philadelphia’s 332 killings were a 15 percent drop from the 392 in 2007; and the 234 homicides in Baltimore were 17 percent less than the 282 the year before.

Cleveland recorded 102 homicides in 2008, down from a 13-year high of 134 in 2007, but Mayor Franklin Jackson wasn’t celebrating the 24 percent drop.

“We’re very disappointed,” Jackson said. “If one person gets killed, it’s a problem. These are not just statistics. Somebody cared about these people.”

In the nation’s biggest cities, homicides in New York rose 5.2 percent, to 522 from 496 the year before, while slayings in Los Angeles were down — 376 in 2008 compared to 400 the prior year.

Homicides in Los Angeles have plunged 27 percent during the past five years, which police officials attributed to a reduction of gang-related crime.

“We have shown time and again that if you invest in law enforcement and hold police accountable … you will absolutely have a very definitive effect on crime,” said Los Angeles Assistant Police Chief Earl Paysinger.

Also reporting fewer slayings were Houston; Minneapolis; Jacksonville, Fla.; San Jose, Calif.; San Francisco; Oakland, Calif.; and Tulsa, Okla.

Killings were up in Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; Washington, D.C.; Tucson, Ariz.; Kansas City, Mo.; St. Louis; Indianapolis; Seattle; and Charlotte, N.C.

In the 25 cities, there were a combined 4,291 slayings in 2008, an overall 2.7 percent drop from the 4,409 recorded in 2007. Data was not reviewed for another 27 cities classified by the Census Bureau as having a 2007 population of over 350,000, however.

Associated Press Writer Jay Lindsay contributed to this report.

(Associated Press)