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At the start of this new year, a number of cities in the United States, including its five largest, have a common story to tell about crime. In 2013, they all saw violent crime rates drop significantly. Some also saw murder rates drop to historic lows. From Chicago, NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.
CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: The sharpest declines in crime last year occurred in New York City and Philadelphia. Los Angeles and Houston saw reductions as well. Statistics show Chicago was a safer city, too, despite some high-profile murders that made national headlines, like the death of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, the teenager who performed at inauguration events and was shot a week later not far from President Obama's Chicago home.
University of Illinois-Chicago criminologist Dennis Rosenbaum says New York and L.A. added more police, but most of the reductions in crime in the country were due in part to smarter policing and new technology.
DENNIS ROSENBAUM: We're not just looking at hotspots policing, which has been shown to be effective - in other words, concentrating police resources in areas where there's a likelihood of violence or violence has occurred - but also looking at hot people. There's people that are at risk both of being homicide victims, as well as offenders.
CORLEY: Authorities in New York, the country's largest city, say it had the fewest number of murders in half a century. At 330 violent deaths, it was a 20 percent decline. Chicago also witnessed historical low rates of crime and violence. At a press briefing, police superintendent Garry McCarthy says the 415 murders that occurred last year, down from 506, were the fewest for the city since the 1960s.
GARRY MCCARTHY: Four hundred murders is nothing to celebrate, let's be clear. But the fact is progress is being made.
CORLEY: In addition to more officers in high-crime areas, McCarthy pointed in part to the use of intelligence like using data to map crime and to track individuals involved to help prevent retaliatory gang shootings. But even more significant, McCarthy said in an interview with NPR, was the big drop in actual shootings and the decline in Chicago's overall crime rate to the lowest it's been in four decades.
MCCARTHY: We have 18,000, almost 20,000 less crime victims in this city from two years ago, which is stunning. It's almost 25 percent. And, you know, what people across the country need to know is the fact that, you know, there's areas of this city that definitely have issues but the vast majority of the city has virtually none.
CORLEY: The numbers may be real but in some neighborhoods they are viewed with skepticism.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Let's give a welcoming applause for the principal, Mr. Ross, for opening up the doors for us.
CORLEY: At a meeting in a South Side Chicago school, activists and ministers said the community had to tackle the violent that plague some areas of the city's South and West Sides. Nathuan Harron(ph) lives on Chicago's West Side, and he says he doesn't believe reports about the city's declining crime rates.
NATHUAN HARRON: Because they shoot every day, all day. Well, where I come from, they shoot every day, all day.
CORLEY: Andrew Papachristos, a Yale University criminologist, says there are areas in Chicago where crime is stubbornly persistent. But he says there's far more crime elsewhere.
ANDREW PAPACHRISTOS: Chicago's rate is in the middle of the pack. And in fact, our rate as a city is dwarfed by the rates in places Flint, Detroit, Baltimore, New Orleans, St. Louis, that have rates that are multiple times higher than that of Chicago.
CORLEY: Papachristos says Chicago's crime rate is more similar to Minneapolis or Houston. In Houston, police put the unofficial count of murders for last year at 217, just four fewer than the year before. In Philadelphia, murders dropped by a rate of about 26 percent. In Los Angeles, there were 16 percent fewer murders than the previous year. UIC criminologist Dennis Rosenbaum says despite their dramatic reductions in crime many cities experienced in 2013, there's still much work to do.
ROSENBAUM: The reality is we still need significant attention to prevention.
CORLEY: Which he says means address underlying causes of crime like concentrated poverty and the lack of jobs in order to sustain a declining crime rate in the years to come. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.