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Published: Thursday, 12/28/2006

Homicides up in many major cities

FROM BLADE STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

NEW YORK - The number of murders climbed this year in New York and many other major U.S. cities, including Cincinnati and Cleveland, with homicides reaching their highest levels in a decade in some places.

Among the reasons given: gangs, drugs, the easy availability of illegal guns, and a disturbing tendency among young people to pull guns when they do not get the respect they demand. In Houston, an influx of Hurricane Katrina evacuees was blamed.

New York City reported 579 homicides through Dec. 24, a nearly 10 percent increase from 2005. The spike is mostly the result of an unusually large number of "reclassified homicides," in which victims were shot or stabbed years ago but did not die until this year. Thirty-five such deaths have been added to this year's toll. The annual average is about a dozen.

Police department spokesman Paul Browne said that this year's total is only slightly higher than last year's 539 homicides, the city's lowest death toll in more than 40 years.

Mr. Browne blamed the rise in part on the availability of guns, particularly weapons from out of state. The city this year sued dozens of out-of-state gun shops that it says are responsible for many of the illegal weapons on New York streets.

In Chicago, homicides through the first 11 months of 2006 were up 3.3 percent from the same period in 2005, reversing a four-year decline. A police spokesman said gang violence has contributed.

In New Haven, Conn., there were 23 homicides as of Tuesday, compared with 15 in 2004 and in 2005. Police Chief Francisco Ortiz said that about half of this year's killings involve young people settling disputes with guns instead of fists.

Houston police attribute the city's 15 percent increase in the homicide count to Katrina evacuees from the Gulf Coast.

"So we expect that to settle," Lt. Murray Smith said. "We're hoping it will go down."

Toledo has logged 34 homicides this year, through yesterday. There were 30 homicides in the city last year and 29 in 2004, including seven children who died in a South Toledo apartment fire.

New Orleans, with its post-Katrina exodus, is the only major U.S. city that saw a sharp decline in the number of homicides. There were 154 in New Orleans this year as of Monday, said police Sgt. Jeffrey Johnson, down from 210 in 2005. The city now has about half of its pre-Katrina population of 455,000.



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