After four years of decline, the number of homicides in Boston spiked this year by 27 percent, even as shootings and violent crime citywide dropped.
As of Sunday, 52 people had been killed in the city, compared with 41 by the same date last year, according to police statistics. Most of the homicides were in Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury.
“Even though the [other crime] numbers are great, we’re still looking at homicide numbers, and we want to make sure we get those numbers down,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh said in a phone interview.
“I want to get to zero. I don’t know if we’ll ever get to zero, but we want to.”
Fatal and nonfatal shootings throughout the city this year dropped from 250 to 213, a decrease of nearly 15 percent. Violent crime, including homicide, rape and attempted rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, dropped by 6 percent, and property crime, including burglary, larceny, and auto theft, dropped by 4 percent.
Since 2000, the homicide total in Boston has dipped as low as 39 in some years and topped 70 in several others, according to FBI statistics provided by James Alan Fox, a criminology professor at Northeastern who studies crime trends. The number has declined slightly each year since 2010, when 73 murders were recorded.
Crime overall has been dropping for years, Fox said, and mirrors the slowing rate of crime nationally.
In Boston, according to Fox’s database of FBI statistics using comparable population figures, the rate of rape has gone down by approximately 30 percent since 2006; the robbery rate has dropped by 46 percent; aggravated assault by 48 percent; burglary by 44 percent; larceny by 34 percent; and motor vehicle theft by 66 percent.
The reasons for the drop, he said, are many: cameras are everywhere, police use real-time statistics and gunfire detection technology like ShotSpotter instead of hunches to guide law-enforcement strategy, the population is aging, and many criminals are already in prison due to America’s incarceration policies. Emergency room medicine has advanced, saving gunshot victims from becoming homicide statistics. Also, he said, there was a crime surge in the 1980s and ’90s linked in part to crack cocaine and gangs, and so a portion of the current decline is a reversal of a bad trend.
“We are a much safer city than we have been for many, many years,” said Fox. “That’s true in many other places, too. We’re not unique.”
In other major cities, including Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles, homicide totals also dropped or held steady, according to local police statistics.
As of Dec. 21, Chicago had seen 392 murders, compared with 408 on the same date last year. New York City had 321 murders as of Sunday, compared with 334 at the same point last year. Homicides in Los Angeles rose slightly, from 250 as of Dec. 27, 2013, to 254 on the same date this year.
Sexual assaults rose in Chicago this year while robberies dropped. Rapes and robberies rose in Los Angeles while the number of shooting victims dropped. In New York City, grand larceny auto rose this year, while rapes, robberies, felony assaults, burglaries, and grand larcenies all dropped.
In Boston, the year began with a surge of killings, many gang related. In January, nine people were killed; in February, a 9-year-old boy was accidentally shot to death by his 14-year-old brother.
After those tragedies, said Police Department spokesman Lieutenant Michael McCarthy, the city made gun violence its focus, launching a gun-buyback program and cracking down hard on illegal firearms. At recent count, the Boston force had taken 1,053 guns off the streets through the buyback and police work, he said, compared with 667 for all of 2013.
The department has also focused on policing hot spots, putting extra patrol and bicycle officers in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan. Police held sports and academy programs for young people, and began scheduling regular coffees with police in the neighborhoods. Walsh said his administration also worked to place young people believed to be involved in violence into job programs.
The number of police involved shootings this year, and the number of officers injured on the job by suspects, were not available Tuesday. In April, police officers fatally shot a man who allegedly charged at them with knives as they responded to a domestic violence call in the South End.
Clergy and community leaders said that while this year’s rise in homicides was disheartening, the overall picture painted by the statistics was positive.
“One of the things that I’ve learned over the years is that the homicide rate can go up and down, but the more important number is shots fired and shooting rate,” said the Rev. Jeffrey Brown, associate pastor at Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury. “When you have a lot of people shooting, and shooting at people, whether they’re missing or not, it contributes to the violence in the community.”
Emmett Folgert, executive director of the Dorchester Youth Collaborative, said nonfatal shootings are, in his experience, one of the best predictors of future violence, because the wounded person often seeks revenge.
“If fewer people are shot, then in the future we can expect less retaliatory shooting,” he said.
Still, 52 families lost a loved one this year, some noted.
“I’m feeling a lot of grief for the city over some of these recent homicides,” said Mark V. Scott, associate pastor at the Azusa Christian Community in Dorchester, who performed the funeral for 20-year-old William Davis after he was shot to death on Dec. 17 on Dudley Street.
The young man’s sister lamented that her brother would not be there for his birthday, for Thanksgiving, for Christmas, and Scott said she did not know what to do with her grief. He praised police but said each death is a tragedy.
“In some ways,” he said, “the numbers don’t tell the story for William Davis.”Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @evanmallen. Travis Andersen can be reached at email@example.com.