Homicide in America last year was a tale of two cities: those where it plummeted and those where it soared.
Murder declined in some places with which it was once (sometimes recently) synonymous, such as Chicago (down 17% from 2012), Philadelphia (down 25%), Los Angeles (16%) and New York (20%).
Chicago's total was the lowest since 1965, Philadelphia's the lowest since 1967, L.A.'s the lowest since 1966. New York logged the lowest total at least since 1963, when its current system of keeping records was established.
Homicides declined in some of the nation's most troubled cities, including bankrupt Detroit (from 386 to 333) and Camden, N.J. (from 67 to 57), where the local police department was dissolved and replaced by a regional force.
Homicides increased in other cities, including Washington (even if the 12 victims of the Sept. 16 Navy Yard massacre are not included); Baltimore, whose Western District, infamous in the TV series The Wire, saw the most murders in a decade; and Newark, where the bloodiest year since 1990 culminated with police charging a 15-year-old boy in a Christmas Day shooting that left two teenagers dead and a third seriously injured.
Overall, homicide declined dramatically around the turn of the century, but experts say it's unclear exactly where it's headed now.
"It wasn't a bad year, especially compared to 15 years ago,'' said Thomas Reppetto, former president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York and an author of several books on policing, "but it's not clear what the long-term trend will be, even five years from now.''
Chicago's decline to 415 murders, he said, merely took the city down to what he called "a normal level'' and offered no guarantee that the city's anti-crime plan was really working or that homicide would not spike this year. The city still had more murders than New York in 2013, with a third of the population.
Reppetto said it takes several years "to see a clear pattern,'' like one in Boston, where 2013 was the fourth straight year when murder declined.
Last year's homicide victims ranged from anonymous foot-soldiers in drug and gang wars to the likes of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old honor student who was gunned down a mile from President Obama's home on Chicago's South Side, and John Wood, a former trash collector and inspiration for the 1990s TV show Roc,who died in Baltimore at age 80 after he was punched and hit his head on the ground.
Officials in cities where murder dropped offered various explanations:
• Summer and after-school youth programs. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said last month that a record 20,000 young people were involved in a jobs program: "Not one of those kids was affected by gun violence this summer, and I don't believe for a minute that if they didn't have jobs they would be safe."
• Anti-gang initiatives. "Operation Crew Cut,'' New York's attempt to prevent retaliatory gang violence by younger members, focused in part on monitoring what then-police commissioner Ray Kelly called "the new battleground of social media."
• "Data-driven" policing. The Los Angeles Police Department concluded that street crime, generally thought to peak in the hottest months, actually crests between August and October. The LAPD made its patrol assignments accordingly.
• Better emergency care. More shooting victims survive their wounds in Boston, officials have said, because of a new emphasis on rushing emergency medical technicians to crime scenes and victims to trauma centers.
When crime goes down, Reppetto said, "there are many answers to 'why?' America is so huge, and there are so many variations.''