Homicides dropped significantly in Boston in 2019, authorities said Tuesday, in a stark contrast to several other big US cities that were contending with higher numbers of murders going into the new year.
According to preliminary crime statistics from Boston police, the city had 38 reported homicides, compared to 56 in 2018. The 2019 totals include one incident deemed a homicide in 2019 that occurred “in prior years.”
Twenty-nine of the killings in 2019 were fatal shootings, compared to 48 fatal shootings in 2018.
Police Commissioner William G. Gross attributed the decline in killings to strong partnerships between police, other first responders, and city residents; a concerted push by Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s office and public health officials to raise awareness of available mental health and trauma services; and additional athletic, academic, and arts programs for young people.
Gross also said his officers took more than 700 guns off the street in 2019.
“There is a true buy-in with community policing,” he said. “We really do look to the community as our true partners.”
Gross stressed that city residents have shown a willingness to immediately call 911 and cooperate with police in the aftermath of violent crime, which has helped keep the numbers down.
“We’re reaching a lot of families,” Gross said. “More so than ever, people are saying, ‘Enough is enough.’ ”
Northeastern University criminology professor James Alan Fox, meanwhile, attributed the city’s low homicide rates in the last decade in part to growing affluence and a higher median age, because older people are less likely to commit murder.
Emmett Folgert, executive director of the Dorchester Youth Collaborative, which works with at-risk youths, was heartened by the steep drop in homicides.
“This is remarkable,” Folgert said, adding that he believes the numbers are the result of officers’ “quick response to shots-fired [calls], increased firearms arrests, and community policing. . . . It’s not just one thing, it’s a few things.”
Homicide rates in many other big cities, meanwhile, far exceeded Boston’s in 2019. Baltimore had 347 homicides, and St. Louis, with a population roughly half the size of Boston, saw 194, according to preliminary figures.
And as of Dec. 26, 271 people had been killed in Detroit, a city with about as many residents as Boston.
New York City, with more than 8 million residents, had 306 homicides through Dec. 15. Boston has a population of roughly 694,583 residents, according to census data.
In Boston, the downward trend was reflected in other violent crimes.
For example, reported incidents of rape and attempted rape declined, from 251 the previous year to 224. There were 1,038 robberies and attempted robberies in 2019, compared to 1,166 in 2018.
However, police reported an increase in nonfatal shootings and assaults. Police said there were 164 nonfatal shootings in 2019, up from 153 in 2018.
Boston also saw 897 reports of domestic aggravated assault in 2019, up from 849 in 2018. Nondomestic aggravated assaults were up too; police took 1,930 reports of such incidents in 2019, compared to 1,888 in 2018.
Businesses were a more enticing target for burglars, with 357 commercial burglaries in 2019, up from 306 in 2018. Home break-ins, however, were down, with residential burglaries totaling 1,278 in 2019, compared to 1,416 in 2018.
In another decrease, there were 2,661 incidents of larceny from a motor vehicle in 2019, a steep drop from the 3,043 in 2018.
Auto thefts also fell, with 1,140 reported in 2019, down from 1,209 in 2018. Other larcenies dropped from 7,951 in 2018 to 7,716 in 2019.
All told, there were 17,342 so-called part one crimes in the city in 2019, down from 18,240 in 2018. Part one crimes include homicide, rape and attempted rape, robbery and attempted robbery, domestic aggravated assault, nondomestic aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and auto theft.
Police said they arrested more gun-toting suspects amid the spike in nonfatal shootings, making 504 firearm-related arrests in 2019, up from 460 in 2018.
Gross said Tuesday that he’s “looking forward to an even safer 2020.”
In a statement, Walsh applauded “the tremendous work by our Boston police officers, who over the course of the year have worked hard, together with the community, to address and prevent violence, making our neighborhoods safer for everyone.”
Fox, the Northeastern criminologist, cautioned against reading too closely into a year-to-year change in the homicide rate.
“There’s a lot of volatility in homicide numbers,” Fox said. “To some extent the rise and fall of homicide numbers is a result of certain chance factors – whether a bullet hits a vital organ, whether an ambulance is able to get to the emergency room in time to save a victim.”
However, he said, there are positive signs in the long-term trends in Boston, showing fewer homicides than a decade ago and lower rates here than the national level.
That’s especially true, Fox said, because the city has added population over the last decade, but the raw homicide number has gotten lower; and it has come amid an opioid crisis, which could in theory lead to a spike in homicides.
Material from the Associated Press and news reports was included in this story.