CHICAGO -- Chicago is on the verge of becoming the city with the most homicides in the nation, surpassing New York in reported murders for the second time in the last four years.
With less than two weeks left in 2001, 652 people had been murdered in Chicago, compared to 617 in New York, a city with more than twice Chicago's population.
At the same time, Chicago killings are up this year after declining every year since 1994, with the 652 already surpassing last year's total of 629.
New York, meanwhile, is in the midst of a dramatic downturn that dates back a decade. The figure through Dec. 16 of 617 killings is well short of the total for all of 2000, 672. The New York totals do not include the more than 3,000 deaths from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which are considered war casualties.
The last time Chicago surpassed New York's murder total was 1998, 704 to 629.
"Homicides are up this year and I don't think anyone is happy with that fact ... ," Chicago Police Supt. Terry Hillard said Friday. "But the fact that we're up 5 percent this year needs to be put into some type of perspective."
Chicago police reported 931 homicides in 1994 before a seven-year decline, said police spokesman David Bayless, and last year's total of 629 represented a 30-year low. At the current pace, Chicago would still experience its third lowest homicide total in the last 35 years, Bayless said.
Reports of every other major crime in Chicago -- including criminal sexual assault, robbery, and arson -- are down from last year's totals, police said. That decline marks the tenth straight year that the overall crime rate had decreased.
Criminologists joined police officials in calling for a broad look at the numbers.
"One year does not a trend make," said Wesley Skogan, a Northwestern University criminologist. "The statistical blip of 2001 is very small compared to the steady decline in homicide that had occurred in Chicago since the early '90s."
Elsewhere, officials reported 550 killings in Los Angeles and 425 in Detroit so far this year.
In explaining the decline in New York, criminologists cited more effective police work, the waning drug trade, lower unemployment, and more neighborhood involvement by New Yorkers, whether on boards or crime watches.
"The big story is the decline in New York's murder rate, not the blip in Chicago's," Skogan said.