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Boston sees drop in homicides, but rise in shootings

Gunshots have rung through Boston’s streets more often this year than last, but the bullets have proven to be less frequently fatal, according to Boston Police Department records.

Eleven people have been killed in the city this year, down from 25 in the same period last year, but officials warn that the drop does not signify a decrease in violence. Shootings in the city have increased.

Boston Medical Center, which takes in roughly 70 percent of victims, treated 22 gunshot victims — including two women — in May, compared with 12 during the same month in 2014, said Thea James, director of the Massachusetts Violence Intervention Advocacy Program at the hospital.


Police say they are more concerned about the increase in gun violence than the decrease in homicides.

“Shootings are a better indicator of where we are. Homicides are just a shooting with a different result,” said Lieutenant Michael McCarthy, a spokesman for the Boston Police Department.

The majority of the year’s homicides have been shootings — 10 of the 11 people killed in the city this year were shot, including, most recently, Jonathan Dos Santos, 16, who was killed while riding his bicycle in Dorchester.

Homicides and shootings totals in Boston fluctuate greatly by year. While the number of reported shootings has increased this year from 2014, they are down from 2013, when 102 shootings, 17 of which were fatal, took place between Jan. 1 and June 8.

While Boston is on track to have a historically low homicide rate, the number of shootings in the city tends to increase in the warmer months, according to police records.

Since 2000, the homicide total in the city has ranged from 39 to 75, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports. Looking at a shorter time period, like the first 5½ months of the year, produces even greater variation, said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University.


“Just because the homicide count is a fraction of what it normally is doesn’t mean we’ve eliminated murder from our streets,” said Fox. “I’d bet next year at this time it’s higher.”

Fox said the circumstances of this year’s shootings and stabbings may have played a larger role in the lower homicide rate.

“There’s a lot of luck involved,” he said. “Whether a shooting victim dies or not depends on where the wound is and how quickly the ambulance gets there.”

Boston has a lower homicide rate than many similarly sized cities, but its numbers of aggravated assaults are higher, said Fox. More shooting and stabbing victims are able to survive their wounds in Boston because the city has so many hospitals, including four top-level trauma centers, he said.

“It’s a perfect situation here in terms of preventing shootings from becoming homicides,” said James.

Instead of looking at homicide rates, the Police Department focuses on total violent crime figures, which were down 10 percent this year, McCarthy said. He credited this year’s decline to the city’s gun buyback program — which has taken 275 weapons off the streets this year — as well as youth engagement efforts by the Police Department.

The lower rate of fatalities does not diminish the impact of the firearm violence, said Tania Mireles, director of Violence Intervention and Prevention at the Boston Public Health Commission. Victims of nonfatal shootings can experience lost limbs or limb function, paralysis, and emotional trauma.


“There’s a ripple effect in terms of psychological emotional trauma, not only for the victims and their families, spouse, and children,” Mireles said. “It really ripples out to witnesses of the shooting and even just community members” nearby.

She described a shooting on her street in Roslindale in January, during which police taped off a large portion of the street, preventing her from driving to pick up her daughter.

“It changes how you think about your street, your neighborhood, even about your child walking home from the bus,” Mireles said.

Catherine Cloutier can be reached at catherine.cloutier@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @cmcloutier.

Correction: Due a reporting error, an earlier version of this story misstated the number of female victims treated for gunshot wounds at Boston Medical Center.