Some Big Cities See Homicides Drop in 2008

Violence-prone Philadelphia and Baltimore might have earned the respective nicknames "Killadelphia" and "Bodymore, Murderland" for good reason, but significant declines in homicides last year have officials in those cities and several others optimistic that they can keep the numbers down in 2009.

Although some of the nation's largest cities, such as New York and Chicago, saw spikes in homicides and others stayed in line with last year's numbers, Houston, Dallas and Detroit were among the cities with improved numbers, which officials attribute to new tactics and an increased police presence in troubled areas.

Baltimore, a city immortalized on the small screen in gritty police dramas "The Wire" and "Homicide: Life on the Street," saw murder statistics drop to a level not seen since the 1980s: a 17 percent dip, from 2007's 282 to 2008's 234.

"When you think about Baltimore, you're not thinking about robberies, you're thinking about murder," Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld told ABC News. "That's the crime situation for our city. Until you can demonstrate your ability to do something about murder, you can't get people focused on public safety."

As for the progress seen in 2008, Bealefeld said police aggressively monitored the parolees and probationers they considered to be the most dangerous and arrested them for parole and probation violations.

In addition, he said better cooperation with state and federal law enforcement and the police targeting of gun offenders by, among other things, creating a gun offender registry added to the drop in homicides.

"We really want to make Baltimore known as a very tough place to commit a gun crime," he said.

Cooperation with the state parole agency is key, Bealefeld said. "Culturally, a lot of those agents looked at their job as reforming their clients," he said. "Now, they're starting to shift that culture to say the first obligation is to the community, to keep the community safe. If you have a client who poses a danger to the community, you should be working to get that client in jail."

Better State-City Cooperation

Kristen Mahoney, director of the Maryland governor's Office of Crime Control & Prevention, who used to work for the Baltimore police, said the state was making an effort to cooperate with the city's crime-fighting efforts. Previously, "there was nobody at home when we called the state. Today, we are in lock step with Baltimore."

In Philadelphia, there were 392 homicides in 2007, which the city's police department displays on its home page, showcasing a drop to 332 victims last year.

"Sixty more Philadelphians are alive today because of the great work of the Philadelphia Police Department," Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said during a Tuesday news conference. The city's police chief, Charles Ramsey, added that it's "just nowhere near acceptable" for so many citizens to be victims of homicide.

"Granted, 60 fewer were killed this year," he said. "But we cannot and we will not rest until we get those numbers down significantly."

The city officials cited a new policy in which officers stop and frisk pedestrians and drivers as a contributing factor to the success. "If you don't have that gun on you today, you can't shoot" someone today, Nutter said.

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