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Mixed Results for Cities' Efforts to Cut Murder Rate

Sgt. Buddy Smallwood goes on patrol in Southeast Washington, D.C.
Laura Sullivan, NPR
Sgt. Buddy Smallwood goes on patrol in Southeast Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C., saw its homicide rate fall to 198 murders in 2004, down from 248 murders in the previous year. While the nation's capital was among several cities to experience a drop in the annual number of murders, many others did not.

D.C. city officials believe their success is a direct result of some new crime-fighting strategies. Two years ago, police Chief Charles Ramsey started targeting specific neighborhoods, called hot spots, with beefed-up patrols and drug SWAT teams.

Nationwide, criminologists say, cities that targeted drug dealing and gang warfare have been the most successful at reducing their homicide rates. While there's no way to know for sure all the factors that contribute to a high homicide rate, criminologists say cities that depend too heavily on federal programs, such as the anti-drug program D.A.R.E., seem to fare the worst. Gun buy-back initiatives have also proven largely ineffective.

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Laura Sullivan is an NPR News investigative correspondent whose work has cast a light on some of the country's most significant issues.