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Chicago topped nation in homicides in 2003

Despite a sharp drop in homicides, Chicago has regained a title nobody wants: America’s murder capital.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Despite a sharp drop in homicides, Chicago has regained a title it didn’t want: America’s murder capital.

The city finished 2003 with 599 homicides, police said Thursday. That was down from 648 a year earlier and the first time since 1967 that the total dipped below 600.

Still, the nation’s third-largest city outpaced all others for the second time in three years. New York, with about three times the population, ended the year with 596 homicides. Los Angeles, which had the most murders in 2002 at 658, wound up 2003 with an estimated total just under 500.

Chicago’s new police superintendent, Philip J. Cline, joined colleagues elsewhere in blaming homicides largely on a volatile mix of gangs, guns and drugs.

But officials pointed to a new system established in June, partly inspired by New York’s computerized crime analysis unit, that contributed to an 18 percent drop in Chicago murders in the second half of 2003 compared with a year earlier.

Slight jump in New York
In New York, the unofficial murder tally of 596 compared with 584 in 2002. That was a 2 percent jump but still made 2003 the city’s second straight year below 600 — dramatically less than the 2,245 homicides recorded in 1990.

St. Louis logged its lowest murder total in more than four decades, a showing that police credited to aggressive efforts to track down violent offenders.

Police said there were 69 killings in the Gateway City in 2003, matching the total of 1962. The number was a 39 percent decrease from the 2002 total of 113.

St. Louis Police Chief Joe Mokwa said the addition of 100 more officers to the force and “the strategy of confronting the most violent offenders has left our neighborhoods more stable.”

Baltimore homicides increased for the first time since 1998 as authorities said killings became more targeted, often in connection with the drug trade.

As of Wednesday, Baltimore reported 271 killings in 2003, compared with 253 in 2002. It was a 7 percent increase and the highest homicide total during the four-year tenure of Mayor Martin O’Malley, who campaigned on a pledge to reduce annual totals to 175.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark said part of the increase was due to gunmen hitting their victims with more bullets.

“They are not looking to shoot a guy in the leg to send a message,” Clark said. “They are out to kill these guys.”

Preliminary figures from the District of Columbia showed the homicide rate dropping 6 percent in the nation’s capital, from 262 in 2002 to 247 last year. But 2004 began with two homicides in about nine hours.

No final figures were available for Detroit, but an FBI report in mid-December put the city on a pace to end 2003 with its fewest homicides since 1968. The total would be about 365, the FBI said.