Hard Numbers

The Year in Murder: 2013 Marks a Historic Low for Many Cities

With cities like New York and Philadelphia leading the way, America is on track to have its lowest murder rate in four decades.

Scott Olson/Getty

From New York to Los Angeles, police departments are touting big drops in their number murder rate—and for good reason. If the country’s largest and most historically violent cities are any marker, the U.S. is on track to have one of the lowest murder rates in four decades, continuing a steady decline in overall violent crime.

Data provided by police departments in the ten cities with the highest number of murders in 2012 shows that eight out of ten saw a significant drop in both total murders and rates in 2013. New York and Philadelphia lead the pack in the sharpest declines. Despite the headlines, Chicago was a safer city in 2013. Though it still leads the nation in number of murders, Chicago had a larger drop than any other city last year..

Here’s how the most dangerous cities fared in 2013.

1. Chicago—412

2013 was a pretty good year for Chicagoans. With 412 deaths, more murders happened in the Second City than any other, but 91 fewer people there lost their lives in 2013 than in 2012, an 18 percent decline. That’s the fewest since 1965. It’s an accomplishment that Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy is proud of, but not resting on. “Four hundred murders is nothing to celebrate, let’s be clear. But the fact is, progress is being made,” he told reporters. The rate fell to about 15 murders per 100,000 residents from of 18.5 last year.

2. New York—333

New York murders fell to a record low in 2013. At less than one murder a day, the rate per 100,000 residents fell 20 percent from last year, and at 4.0, it was the only top-ten city to fall below the national average of 4.7. Though 2014 has gotten off to a less than stellar start: two people were killed there on New Year’s Day.

3. Detroit—332

One more murder and Detroit would have taken the number two spot. Although the murder rate is still the highest of the big cities, there were 54 fewer murders in the Motor City than in 2012, a drop of 14 percent. It’s only the fourth time in 30 years that murders have fallen below 350. Detroit Police Chief James Craig has credited the drop in violent crime to a data-driven approach and says, “This reduction is going to be sustainable.”

4. Los Angeles—255

Like the rest of the country, L.A.’s murders dropped this year and 44 fewer people lost their lives. But what’s really impressive is the ten-year change. In 2003, 515 people were killed, almost double this year’s count.

5. Philadelphia—246

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The City of Brotherly Love is closer to earning its moniker. Killings there were lower than any count since 1967. 85 fewer people died there, cutting the murder rate by over 25 percent.

6. Baltimore—234

It was one of the few cities to see an increase in murders, and Baltimore’s City Police Commissioner Anthony Batts says that 80 percent are drug-related. Murders were up seven percent over last year, up from 218. Baltimore’s violent crime overall saw a decrease from last year.

7. Houston—201

Texas’ largest city saw 201 murders last year, a seven percent decline from last year and the second-lowest since 1965, when 139 people were killed.

8. New Orleans—155

The murder rate in New Orleans dropped almost 20 percent last year and is down 40 percent since 2003, but its rate is still one of the highest in the nation at 42 per 100,000 residents, more than eight times the national average. And as always, data can be deceiving; part of the drop is explained by the survival rate of shooting victims.

9. Memphis—150

With 150 killings as of Tuesday, the largest city in Tennessee was the second in the top ten to see a rise in murders last year, of about 13 percent. The 10-year count is up 19 percent from 2003 and the rate is over four times the national average. Police Lt. Joe Scott explained the uptick in violence earlier this year, saying, “This year there just seems to be a lot of neighborhood arguing.”

10. Dallas—137

Murders in Dallas dropped to 137 last year, continuing the steady decline from 226 murders just a decade ago. First Assistant Chief Cindy Villarreal told The Dallas Morning News that a renewed fight against drug-dealing was the reason for the decline. In general, violent crime slightly rose, however.