Many police departments report decline in murders in 2018 — but not in these cities

By Erin Donaghue

/ CBS News

Many of the country's most populous cities saw murders decline from 2017 to 2018, with a few key exceptions, according to preliminary police data.

The Brennan Center for Justice estimates the 2018 overall murder rate in the country's 30 biggest cities declined by nearly 6 percent, continuing a historic downward trend despite a national spike between 2015 and 2016. It notes that a large decrease in Chicago and a moderate decrease in Baltimore, cities where deadly violence has garnered some of the most intense national media coverage, contributed to the overall decline.

Despite the general downward trend, some major cities including Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia saw significant increases in murders from last year, and the country's fourth most populous city — Houston — recorded a 4 percent uptick from 2017.

In Baltimore, 309 murders were recorded in 2018, reports CBS Baltimore, down from 342 in 2017. But the city of 600,000 continues to top the country's 30 largest cities in population-based murder rate, with more than 50 murders per 100,000 people.

Murder map: Deadliest U.S. cities 62 photos

Murders in Chicago fell by about 15 percent — from 660 in 2017 to 561 in 2018, according to Chicago police, or about 20 per 100,000 people. The 2018 number was down 26 percent from 2016, when the recorded 777 murders marked a 19-year high, reports the Associated Press.

The police department there attributed the decrease to strengthening community partnerships, the seizure of 9,500 illegal guns and the creation of "strategic decision support centers" in 20 of the city's 22 districts that use gunshot detection technology, crime cameras and predictive analytics to determine where and when to deploy officers. The department also says it has hired more than 1,000 new officers in just under two years.

But murders in Chicago continued to outnumber the number of homicides in New York and Los Angeles combined, both of which have seen a historically low number of murders in recent years. Citing preliminary data, the NYPD said it recorded 289 murders in 2018, down from 292 in 2017. The LAPD's 2018 crime data still wasn't available as of Wednesday, but the Brennan Center estimated the city would dip from 281 murders in 2017 to about 253 in 2018.

San Francisco, another city that typically sees a very low homicide rate, dropped from 56 murders in 2017 to 46 in 2018, police there say, citing preliminary data. Other major cities including Jacksonville, San Antonio and Phoenix saw year-to-year drops.

Even in some smaller cities that have been plagued by high population-based murder rates, murders were on the decline in 2018. St. Louis, which in 2017 topped the country at nearly 65 murders per 100,000 people, fell from 205 murders in 2017 to 186 in 2018, police say. And New Orleans fell to a 47-year low in 2018 with 145 murders. New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison credited a program to get repeat violent offenders off the streets and an expanding network of street surveillance cameras for an overall reduction in violent crime in the city, reports the Associated Press. New Orleans' murder rate per population, however, is still among the highest in the country.

philly.jpg
A police officer stands guard outside a home where a woman was murdered on Woodstock Street in Philadelphia, Friday, Dec. 14, 2018. Philadelphia saw murders reach a 12-year high in 2018. AP Photo/Matt Rourke

2018 numbers for Detroit, another troubled city which in 2017 saw nearly 40 murders per 100,000 people, weren't immediately available via the police department on Wednesday, though the Brennan Center predicted they would drop slightly.

Standing out from the downward trend were Washington, D.C., where murders increased from 116 in 2017 to 160 in 2018. The 2017 number marked a decrease from 135 in the district the previous year. In Houston, murders were also up from 269 in 2017 to 279 in 2018 — still below 2016's 301. Other cities that saw increases include Memphis and Indianapolis. In Indianapolis, homicides were for a third consecutive year at an all-time high in 2018 at 159, according to a report from the Indy Channel. Indianapolis police did not immediately respond to requests for data from CBS News.

In Philadelphia, the number of murders last year marked a 12-year high. Philadelphia police reported 351 murders in 2018, up from 315 in 2017 and the highest number of murders recorded in the city since 2007. Police there cited an uptick in drug-related killings. Philadelphia police Commissioner Richard Ross Jr. told CBS radio affiliate KYW competition among drug dealers in some sections of the city has led to gun violence.

The FBI is expected to release official crime statistics including murder rates by city in September.

First published on January 3, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Erin Donaghue

Erin Donaghue covers crime for CBSNews.com's Crimesider.

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