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Crime is down overall in Boston, but activists say the work must go on

As numbers remain relatively stable year-over-year, a continued push for outreach to children and teenagers

According to Boston Police statistics, violent and property crime dipped by 2 percent altogether in Boston last year compared to 2021; however, it is up in the police districts that cover Charlestown, West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, and Hyde Park.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Violent and property crime dipped by 2 percent altogether in Boston last year compared to 2021, according to Boston Police statistics, though the city continues to focus on curbing youth gun violence.

The numbers, posted Tuesday to the department’s website, indicated a roughly 25 percent decrease in violent sexual crimes and a more than 15 percent drop in residential burglary from last year, while all other numbers remained fairly consistent. Crime decreased in most neighborhoods over the past year, but is up by at least 10 percent in the police districts that cover Charlestown, West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, and Hyde Park.

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Overall, crime in Boston is trending down compared to the five-year average, even as crime in other major US cities creeps upward. Still, community advocates stressed the importance of staying committed to violence prevention in the coming year.

“Whatever the statistics may be for one particular year certainly doesn’t tell the full story of where we’re at [as a city or state] when it comes to violence,” said Ruth Zakarin, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence. “This is still a call to continued action … because we want to bring those numbers down to zero.”

There were 41 homicides in 2022, up from 40 in 2021. The 2021 tally includes three deaths that were ruled homicides that year but occurred in prior years, police said.

There were also more double and triple shootings reported last year than in 2021, and more deadly shootings, although the total number of shooting victims dropped from 197 to 181, according to preliminary numbers from the department.

“Thanks to the continued hard work, data driven policing, and community partnerships that the sworn and civilian members of the Boston Police Department have engaged in, the city was able to sustain and even surpass the record low numbers we saw in 2021,” Police Commissioner Michael Cox said in a statement, adding that last year’s crime levels in Boston were among the lowest since the late 1950s.

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Meanwhile, both violent and property crime increased in cities such as Nashville, Tenn., and San Francisco, shootings went up in Seattle, Wash., and property crime increased in Portland, Ore. and Las Vegas, cities with a population size similar to Boston. Washington D.C., however, displayed similar trends to Boston, with overall crime down four percent this year.

Law enforcement and elected officials point to the city’s multi-pronged response to community violence as one reason for the historic lows, and said they will continue to use the city’s network of resources to tackle violent crime involving children and teenagers.

In November, Boston police reported that they had made significantly more juvenile gun arrests in 2022 than in the previous three calendar years. Cox acknowledged that youth violence remains a critical area of focus for the city, and pointed to several partnerships he hopes will reverse the trend this year.

“Mayor [Michelle] Wu and I agree that wrapping in services to address underlying causes of criminal activity such as poverty, mental health issues, trauma, food insecurities and addiction are imperative,” Cox said. He added that the department has also partnered with Boston Public Schools “to get young people the supportive services they need to help them make safer choices.”

While youth violence remains a concern, data on most crimes seem to have reached a plateau, though it’s too early to spot any clear trends. Academics noted that stable crime rates aren’t unusual after a period of decline, and cautioned that yearly numbers rarely point directly to the success or failure of city initiatives.

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“Crime is a social phenomenon caused by a very complicated mix of things that affect communities ... and the number you get at the end of the year is just the combined result of all those factors,” said Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research & Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “So I would not rush to interpret the meaning of a sudden plateau or even trough after a long period of decline.”

Butts explained that generally, the US experiences more violent crime than other countries due to “a combination of stressful social conditions and an ample supply of sophisticated firearms,” and said that because young males are most often the perpetrators of violence, any city where communities of young men face adverse social conditions is likely to experience violent crime.

“If you are in a neighborhood where young men have a hard time seeing a future for themselves or seeing security for themselves, they’re more likely to think they need to protect themselves and have a gun in their pocket,” he said.

According to Butts, research indicates that successful violence reduction initiatives focus roughly three-quarters of a city’s effort on “primary prevention” and the remaining quarter on apprehending and responding to perpetrators.

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Mark Culliton, cofounder of the gang intervention program Uncornered, said he believes pouring resources into those closest to the violence, including perpetrators, is “the only way to get to zero.”

“When you drive supports to them — stipends, mental health supports, educational transfers — they change behavior,” he said.

Zakarin called on the city to stay vigilant and said officials should already be preparing a safety plan for the summer and back-to-school season.

“We had a very traumatic fall into winter, and the year-end numbers don’t really tell that story,” she said. “We know, every year, that rates of violence tend to start going up in the summer, but... sometimes those conversations don’t happen until right before the summer occurs.”

The city’s response, she insisted, “cannot just be reactive when June comes.”


Ivy Scott can be reached at ivy.scott@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @itsivyscott. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.