Puerto Rico Shaken by Brazen Daylight Killings

Law enforcement officials promise a crackdown. Puerto Rico’s murder rate is far lower than its peak of seven years ago, but it is four times that of the mainland U.S. and is more in line with countries like Mexico.

Puerto Rico long has had one of the highest murder rates in the U.S., almost all of it attributable to gang violence. A recent spree of brazen daylight killings, some of which were captured on video and widely shared on social media, have shaken the population and worried law enforcement officials, the New York Times reports. On Jan. 6, several men engaged in a shootout near the San Juan airport, leaving one man dead. On Wednesday, a gas station security camera captured a gunman in a ski mask who calmly walked up to a Honda, fired at its driver and left. On Thursday, Kevin Fret, an openly gay musician with a large social media following, was gunned down as he rode a motorbike before dawn. With headlines reporting that 22 people had already lost their lives violently in the first few weeks of 2019, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló convened a meeting of law enforcement officials, who promised a crackdown.

While Puerto Rico’s murder rate is far lower than it was at its peak seven years ago, nearly 5,000 police officers have quit in recent years and a former police chief says she is afraid to leave her house after dark. Twenty-five years after Puerto Rico made headlines by sending its National Guard to patrol urban neighborhoods, the island is one of the most dangerous places in the world. Héctor Pesquera, the public safety secretary, plans to identify the most violent gang members who committed most of the recent turf-battle killings and target them for prosecution. Puerto Rico recorded 641 murders in 2018, down 10 percent from 710 the year before. For comparison, the island set a record of 1,135 homicides in 2011 — 30 killings for every 100,000 residents. At 20 per 100,000, Puerto Rico’s murder rate is four times that of the mainland U.S., and is more in line with countries like Mexico.

from https://thecrimereport.org

S.F. Bay Area Records Historically Low Murder Totals

The combined homicide total in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose dropped 26 percent in the last two years. Officials credit both new technologies and trusted policing techniques.

After an uptick in homicides a few years ago, the San Francisco Bay Area’s biggest cities started again recording historically low killing totals in 2018, as many turned to new technologies and trusted policing techniques to curb serious crimes, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Nearly every city in the area reported a drop, some of them to numbers not seen in decades. Homicide counts fell in 12 of the Bay Area’s 15 largest cities from 2017 to 2018, declining in the 15 cities from 234 to 196. Declines were stark in some of the area’s most populous cities, with combined homicides in San Jose, Oakland and San Francisco sinking by 26 percent over the past two years, from 190 in 2016 to 161 in 2017 to 141 in 2018.

Experts say law enforcement’s focus on gangs, illegal firearms and the worst criminal offenders has helped drive down crime. “I’m willing to believe that some of the drop in Oakland is really to the credit of the Police Department,” said Robert Weisberg of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, noting the city’s violence-reduction program, Ceasefire. The initiative focuses on people most likely to be shooters or victims of gunfire, offering mentorship and community resources to guide them away from violence. The six-year-old program is credited with helping the city mark the sixth consecutive year of declines in homicides and injury shootings combined. The city counted 68 homicides in 2018, the lowest total since 1999. San Francisco officials attribute the city’s crime drop partly to the Crime Gun Investigations Center, started in November 2017. Investigators enter records of guns, spent shell casings and bullets into a network that shares evidence across jurisdictions. The unit tests casings even when there’s not a victim, which could connect a gun to unsolved homicides.

from https://thecrimereport.org

New Orleans Murder Total Lowest Since 1971

It was the second year in a row the number of murders had fallen in New Orleans, which recorded 157 in 2017, down from 174 in 2016. The 47-year low in murders was accompanied by a 28 percent drop from 2017 in non-deadly shooting incidents.

Despite a bloody Christmas holiday, New Orleans in 2018 registered its lowest number of murders in nearly half a century, and other key gun violence statistics also saw important drops. It is a sign of modest progress in the city’s most intractable crisis, The Advocate reports. There were 146 people murdered in New Orleans in 2018, with three additional killings having been deemed justifiable. It was the lowest annual murder toll since 1971, when there were 116 slayings. It was the second year in a row the number of murders had fallen in New Orleans, which recorded 157 in 2017, down from 174 in 2016. In past years, skeptics of New Orleans’ violence-reduction efforts noted that other violent crimes had not seen similar decreases. In 2018, though, the 47-year low in murders was accompanied by a 28 percent drop from 2017 in non-deadly shooting incidents. Armed robberies fell for the third year in a row, and the number of carjackings came down as well, according the City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee.

New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison tasked a special team of tactical officers and detectives with removing repeat violent offenders from the streets, no matter how long the cases took to build, and he said they’ve delivered results. Another tool is an expanding network of street surveillance cameras, which in some cases have produced high-definition images of criminal suspects. Crime analyst Jeff Asher said it is reasonable to credit the NOPD’s efforts as a meaningful contributor to the improved numbers. He said other factors have almost certainly also driven the numbers down. The drop in homicides will ensure New Orleans was not the most murderous U.S. city in 2018 on a per-capita basis, a title the city has held several times since Hurricane Katrina.

from https://thecrimereport.org

D.C. Homicide Total Surged in 2018; Other Cities Decline

D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham is trying to focus on gun crimes. “When you look at our known homicide offenders in the city, about 40 percent of those have a prior gun arrest,” he said. “At all levels of the criminal justice system, we have to do better.”

Homicides in Washington, D.C., surged in 2018, driven by the more frequent use of guns in crimes and more fatal outcomes when a shooting occurs, the Washington Post reports. The tally of 160 homicides was a 40 percent increase over the 2017’s 116 total and brought Washington to the cusp of a count not seen since 2015, when a violent summer alarmed residents. Other violent crime totals fell. The 2018 rise occurred as many other large cities saw homicides decline. Petty disputes between people who know each other remain at the root of many killings. The city also witnessed grievous random deaths. Early in the year, a 14-year-old was fatally shot in the back during a robbery as he walked home from buying snacks at a store. A boxer who’d lectured a man about stealing a car was shot and killed. A woman out for a run was stabbed and died after crawling to a carryout restaurant for help.

Police Chief Peter Newsham is trying to focus on gun crimes. “When you look at our known homicide offenders in the city, about 40 percent of those have a prior gun arrest,” he said. “At all levels of the criminal justice system, we have to do better.” Washington’s increase of more than 40 killings is one of the biggest jumps nationwide, yet the per capita homicide rate for the  capital remains far lower than that for Baltimore, St. Louis, Detroit and New Orleans, Homicides in Philadelphia rose 11 percent; Baltimore’s count declined yet still topped 300. Criminologist Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri at St. Louis said Chicago has shown the biggest drop in homicide numbers for the year with nearly 100 fewer. Rosenfeld, who has compared statistics in nearly 80 cities, said homicides across the country fell 2 percent to 4 percent over 2017.

from https://thecrimereport.org

NYC Murders Drop Again, But Rapes, Hate Crimes Rise

Reported rapes rose 22 percent, which may reflect more people reporting attacks during the #MeToo movement. “We view it as good news because it means that more people are feeling confident to come forward and report the rape,” said Sonia Ossorio of the National Organization for Women of New York.

New York City remained the nation’s safest big city in 2018 as the murder rate continued to drop. Rapes and hate crimes reported to the police rose sharply, the New York Times reports. Reported rapes rose 22 percent, which some experts attributed to more people reporting attacks during the #MeToo movement. Hate crimes rose 5 percent, with larger increases in attacks against black and Jewish people. Murder and other violent crimes decreased, continuing a 28-year trend. New York’s murder rate hovered just above 3 per 100,000 people in 2018, well below the three other largest U.S. cities. Los Angeles’s murder rate is expected to be slightly over 6 per 100,000, Chicago’s just under 20 and Houston’s just over 14. Criminologist Franklin Zimring of the University of California, Berkeley said the city may find it hard to reduce violent crime much further. “At some point, rates of life-threatening violence … are going to scrape bottom,” he said.

As of Dec. 30, there were 287 homicides in New York, down five from last year. In 1990,  there were 2,262 murders. Robberies in 2018 were also down by nearly 8 percent from the previous year, and shooting incidents decreased by 4 percent. The number of people shot fell to 894, from 933. Some 1,760 rapes were reported as of Dec. 23, compared to 1,438 at the same time last year. “We view it as good news because it means that more people are feeling confident to come forward and report the rape,” said Sonia Ossorio of the National Organization for Women of New York. On the overall crime drop, criminologists cited factors such as more effective policing, improved technology, violence-prevention programs and demographic and social changes. Experts said the drop in violent crime continued even as the police department has scaled back enforcement of marijuana laws and ended the practice of stopping and frisking large numbers of young men in high-crime neighborhoods.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Homicides, Shootings in Chicago Down 2nd Straight Year

After reaching a high in 2016, the number of homicides and shootings in Chicago dropped by double-digit percentages this year, reports the Chicago Tribune, which is maintaining its own data set. There were 675 homicides in 2017 and 570 reported so far this year.

For the second year in a row, the number of homicides and shootings in Chicago dropped by double-digit percentages in 2018, though some neighborhoods  continue to bear the brunt of gun violence as they have for decades, the Chicago Tribune reports. Homicides dropped by 15 percent, shootings by 18 percent, according to data kept by the Tribune. That continues a trend from 2016, when violence reached levels not seen since the 1990s. “Are we where we want to be? Of course not,” said Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson. He attributed the progress over the last year to improved technology, more federal involvement in investigations of gun crimes and continued efforts to rebuild community trust.

As of Friday, more than 2,900 people had been shot and there were at least 570 homicides this year. Last year, at least 3,567 people were shot and at least 675 homicides were recorded. Two of the most violent police districts last year were still among the top areas for shootings and homicides this year: Harrison on the West Side and Englewood on the South Side, both encompassing neighborhoods that have long struggled with crime. A spike in the Calumet District stems from a “really horrible gang issue over there,’’ Johnson said. “We’re well aware of what’s driving it.” Criminologist Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri at St. Louis said the city needs to see big declines in traditionally violent areas too. “The data for Chicago — and this is the case no matter where one looks — makes it dramatically clear when we talk about a city homicide rate, we are talking about a very mixed bag, where some areas are dropping and other areas are flat or have experienced more homicides this year than year-to-date last year,’’ he said.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Baltimore Murders Up, Arrests Down Sharply

While homicide rates remain near historic lows in most cities, Baltimore and Chicago are seeing murder tallies that rival the early 2000s. After the 2015 death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, patrol officers are more hesitant to leave their vehicles and stop suspects.

As Baltimore has experienced a surge of violence, with nearly a killing each day for the past three years in a city of 600,000, homicide arrests have plummeted. Police made an arrest in 41 percent of homicides in 2014; last year, the rate was just 27 percent, reports the Washington Post. Of 50 of the largest U.S. cities, Baltimore is one of 34 big cities where police now make homicide arrests less often than in 2014. In Chicago, the homicide arrest rate has dropped 21 percentage points, in Boston it has dropped 12 points and in St. Louis it is down nine. Baltimore is also one of 30 cities that have seen a homicide increase in recent years, with the greatest increase of any city other than Chicago, which has four times the population.

While homicide rates remain near historic lows in most cities, Baltimore and Chicago are seeing murder tallies that rival the early 2000s. The wave of Baltimore violence began after the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man arrested and placed, hands cuffed and legs shackled, in the back of a police van. There, he suffered a severe neck injury, lost consciousness, and died about a week later. The years since have come with a documented officer slowdown. Patrol officers say they are hesitant to leave their vehicles and have made fewer subjective stops of people on Baltimore’s streets. While there is evidence for and against a nationwide Ferguson effect — the theory that crime rose after 2014 as police faced scrutiny after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. — in Baltimore there is a Freddie Gray effect. As violence rose, the likelihood of a killer being arrested has dropped precipitously. “Our clearance rate isn’t what I think it should be,” said Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle. “We’ve got a really, really talented homicide unit, but we’re understaffed.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Gun Crimes Increased Over Two Years to 2017: BJS

The Bureau of Justice Statistics said the year-to-year increase in people reporting violent crimes last year was not “statistically significant.” But within the violent crime category, the number of Americans reporting they were victims of robberies and crimes involving firearms increased in 2017.

Crimes involving firearms increased from 284,910 in 2015 to 456,270 last year, while other types of crime such as burglary and auto theft went down,  the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports in its annual National Crime Victimization Survey.

But the survey also noted that the overall number of American victimized by violent crime increased only fractionally between 2016 and 2017.

An estimated 3.1 million U.S. residents were victimized by violent crime during 2017, up from 2.9 million in 2016 and 2.7 million in 2015—a year-to-year increase that the agency said was not “statistically significant.”

BJS released the annual survey results late Friday.

The victimization survey differs from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, which is based on voluntary reports by citizens to local police departments, which then relay the totals to the FBI.

The FBI annual report, which was released in September, estimated 1,247,321 violent crimes last year nationwide, a decrease of .2 percent from 2016.

Trends in the victimization survey were mixed among crime types. Robbery victimizations increased from from 1.7 per 1,000 residents age 12 or older in 2016 to 2.3 per 1,000 in 2017. (The victimization survey does not measure homicides, because it is based on a survey of residents asking if they had been victimized.)

The burglary rate dropped from 23.7 victimizations per 1,000 households in 2016 to 20.6 per 1,000 households in 2017.

Motor vehicle thefts went down over two years, from 618,330 in 2015 to 516,810 last year.

The proportion of U.S. residents 12 or older who had been a victim of violent crime during the previous six months increased from 0.98 percent in 2015 to 1.14 percent in 2017. This 2-year rise in the prevalence of violent crime was driven primarily by an increase in simple assaults, which usually are not felonies.

Categories of the population reporting increased victimization last year included women, whites, people ages 12 to 17 and 65 and over, and those who were divorced or had never married. The portion of Asians victimized by violent crime decreased.

Property crime overall decreased from 2016 to 2017, falling from 118.6 victimizations per 1,000 households to 108.4. Property crime also dropped the previous year.

Continuing a long trend, residents interviewed said they reported about 45 percent of violent victimizations and 36 percent of property victimizations were reported to police last year.

Only eight percent of violent crime victims received assistance from a victim-service agency last year, similar to the number in 2016.

The percentage of rapes or sexual assaults that were reported to police rose from 23 percent in 2016 to 40 percent in 2017.

Crime in the U.S. reached its highest totals in modern history in the early 1990s.

The long-term trend over a 24-year period shows the rate of violent victimizations declining 74 percent between 1993 and 2017, from 79.9 to 20.6 victimizations per 1,000 residents 12 or older.

The victimization survey included interviews in 145,508 households. Within participating households, 239,541 persons completed an interview in 2017, BJS said.

The main Justice Department did not issue an immediate comment on the victimization survey results.

Last year, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited the victimization survey for 2016 and asserted that there had been a 13 percent increase in violent crime that year.

However, BJS said that the survey in 2016 “went through a routine redesign in 2016, which resulted in the 2016 data not being comparable to data from prior years.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Indianapolis Breaks Homicide Record Fourth Year in Row

“Most people don’t think that you can do anything about it,” said Rev. Charles Harrison, co-founder of the Indianapolis Ten Point Coalition. “You cannot get the guns off the street. You’re not able to deal with the issues of poverty and broken families and the hopelessness these kids are feeling.”

For the fourth year in a row, Indianapolis has broken a new homicide record, reports the Indianapolis Star. The deaths of two men shot and killed inside a vehicle Wednesday  pushed the total dead in 2018 to 156. This year’s count eclipsed the 155 cases investigated by police last year and continued an annual climb in criminal homicides that began in 2011. It can create hopelessness at times. “Most people don’t think that you can do anything about it,” said Rev. Charles Harrison, co-founder of the Indianapolis Ten Point Coalition. “You cannot get the guns off the street. You’re not able to deal with the issues of poverty and broken families and the hopelessness these kids are feeling.” For Harrison, who has been involved in anti-crime efforts for two decades, it’s clear who pays the highest cost in Indianapolis: black males, particularly those under 25.

Young black males are 4 times more likely than everyone else to be victims of criminal homicides in Indianapolis. They’re overwhelmingly dying of gunshot wounds. Black males under 25 were victims in 34 cases this year. Young white males accounted for two victims. It matches a years-long trend. Since 2014, just 17 young white males were victims, compared to 175 who were young black males, making up about one-fourth of all victims. “I think they’re very vulnerable in our society today because many of them are growing up in neighborhoods where there’s a higher level of crime and violence taking place,” Harrison said. Veteran police officers are retiring faster than recruits can be hired, trained and put to work, said Rick Snyder of Fraternal Order of Police No. 86. “We’re on track to lose over 100 officers this year,” he said. Attrition and a small recruit class means the year will end with 1,681 officers, an increase of only seven from a year ago.

from https://thecrimereport.org

CA Crime Up, Critics Want to Reverse Some Reforms

Crime rates remain near historic lows, but overall crime spiked in both 2012 and 2015, years that followed two statewide measures aimed at decreasing the number of inmates.

Over the last decade, California has led the nation in reducing its prison population.
It has shortened sentences and diverted some offenders to counties for incarceration and supervision, transforming the criminal justice system into what backers hope will become a humane model. Yet crime has increased in recent years, prompting debate about the causes and giving ammunition to those leading an effort to roll back some reforms. California’s crime rates remain near historic lows, but overall crime spiked in both 2012 and 2015, years that immediately followed two statewide measures aimed at decreasing the number of inmates. Those jumps were mainly driven by increases in property crimes, particularly thefts from motor vehicles, reports the Los Angeles Times and The Marshall Project.

After decades of mirroring national violent crime downward trends, California reported a 12 percent increase from 2014 to 2017, while the violent crime rate in the other 49 states increased only 3 percent. In 2014, California voters approved a measure that reduced sentences for low-level drug and property crimes. The property crime rate fell slightly in the last two years, but remains 2 percent higher than 2014. By contrast, the rate of property crimes in the rest of the nation  dropped 10 percent over the same period. In 2014, voters approved Proposition 47, which changed drug use and most theft convictions from felonies to misdemeanors. In 2016, voters overhauled the parole system, when Proposition 57 gave thousands of inmates the chance to earn an earlier release. The result of all these measures is that people are on the street who would have been locked up in previous years. Critics argue that reforms have made policing harder and weakened the deterrent effect of a possible prison sentence. An initiative that will appear on the 2020 ballot would reverse some Proposition 47 provisions, toughen parolee supervision and disqualify some prisoners from early release.

from https://thecrimereport.org