Minneapolis saw an uptick in homicides in 2021, ending the year with 95 across the city, which was a 13%  increase from 2020. 

Homicides were up 7% in cities across 99 cities with available data across the country last year. In other medium-sized cities, the numbers were much higher.  Austin, TX saw an 87%  increase in homicides, while Rochester, NY (+56%), Albuquerque (+50%) , Las Vegas (+44%), and Portland, OR (+43%) all saw a much more dramatic rise than we did.

However, the rise in homicides didn’t happen everywhere. Several cities saw double digit drops  in homicide rates, including Boston, where they decreased by 28%, Jacksonville (-26%), St. Louis (-25%), Charlotte (-18%), Miami (-15%), Kansas City (-13%),  and Dallas (-11%). 

Given the varying homicide rates, I read local news coverage in cities that saw their homicide rates drop to find the solutions they highlighted as being particularly important and effective in making their communities safer.

Through the local news coverage, I noted some specific strategies that community leaders, public officials, and law enforcement credited with the reduction in homicides. There isn’t any one simple solution. Nobody points to one easy or inexpensive answer. It takes a lot of work across different areas of society to fight systemic problems like these. Looking to other cities’ strategies is one small step to finding the answers that could work for our city.

Articles from every city mention the increase in funding for community programming

Community programming includes summer job programs, churches doing food distribution, and additional counselors for high schools.

“'One homicide is one too many and the things we’re doing around deterrence, intervention, and prevention are working,' the mayor said.  'Our partnership with behavioral health response through our ‘Cops and Clinicians’ program, Cure Violence, our focused deterrence efforts, all of these things worked hand-in-hand to see a marked decrease in the first eight months since I’ve been mayor.'  

'When you’ve got a really volatile scene, and you’ve got people very emotional and very upset, the calming effect that the social workers have in trying to provide services to those families is immeasurable,' Hayden said.  'I believe all of it working together is what we call firing on all cylinders.  I believe we’re doing that right now.'”  (Fox 2 St. Louis

The long-term plan, called the 'Peace and Prosperity Plan' will include expanded fellowships and intern programs for young people who are already involved with the criminal justice system. Up to 350 youths will be able to participate in a paid summer jobs program through the county parks department starting this month, to the tune of a little more than $1 million.

Next summer, up to 500 young people will be able to participate — that initiative will cost about $3.8 million. The youth will also receive direct contact with social services and mentoring programs while participating… Additional funds are being allocated to Miami-Dade Police Department’s Athletic League program, a youth program, and other programs aimed at connecting with teenagers with the goal of deterring them from crime.” (WLRN Miami)

“Community leaders and activists tell a slightly different story. From their perspective, the decrease in violence is primarily the result of a renewed focus at the grassroots level to address and combat the issue—and they believe that this change is the result of people being fed up with relying on law enforcement.

'A major shift has taken place where [people across St. Louis] are saying we have to be more involved in what’s going on in our neighborhoods,' says James Clark, Vice President of the Division of Public Safety and Community Response for Urban League of St. Louis. 'You have individuals that are becoming more active on their blocks.'

As Clark explains, people are making an effort to engage directly with those they know could be involved in violent situations, as well as are getting more involved with the local organizations figuring out how they can contribute. 

'Churches [and other community organizations] are doing food distribution, hosting job fairs, serving as vaccine clinics. (These kinds of ground-led efforts are seen as steps that can curtail gun violence indirectly because they foster a stronger environment within socioeconomically damaged neighborhoods.) We are seeing a change in attitude,' Clark continues. 'We need family accountability, we need neighborhood accountability. We cannot heap the responsibility of [addressing] violence solely on the police.'”  (Time Magazine on St. Louis)

“Among the task force’s contributions: Better lighting and cleaning up abandoned lots and houses in underserved Dallas neighborhoods. The violence interrupters program, which offers help to at-risk community members. New counseling programs in six Dallas ISD high schools.” (Dallas Morning News)

Everyone, from police to community leaders and everyone in between, talked about collaboration

Collaboration both between law enforcement agencies across jurisdictions and law enforcement working directly to support community groups.

“Long added that through 'intelligence-led and data-driven policing, an enduring focus on enhancing community partnerships, and unwavering resiliency, the members of the Boston Police Department were able to reduce violent crime significantly to improve the quality of life for all of Boston’s residents.'” (Boston Globe)

“One of the goals of 2022 is to focus on reducing juvenile crime through a partnership with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the community. 'We have to come up with ways that we’re going to ensure that one they don’t have access to these firearms whether through education, through parents and in the homes or continuing to do the work so people secure their firearms so they’re not victimized and stolen,' Jennings said.” (WCNC Charlotte)

“'I want to thank each officer of the Boston Police Department for the courage, compassion, and professionalism they display every day.' Long also lauded community leaders and residents who helped law enforcement. 'I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the clergy, our valued community partners and residents, and all of our law enforcement partners,' Long said. 'Thank you for your collaboration and work on behalf of Boston’s citizens.'” (Boston Globe)

“'Get the people who [experience this problem daily] involved with stopping what’s going on in the community,' says Reginald Slaughter, community coordinator for the Fathers & Families Support Center. 'We need to keep the community involved in the solutions. That’s how we’re going to keep this going.'”  (Time Magazine on St. Louis)

“Garcia also wants his department doing community building as well as rooting out the criminals. 'We need to learn from our negative history to learn why there’s not trust in certain areas,' he said. 'People clearly have had bad experiences with officers.'” (Dallas Morning News)

“[Safe Charlotte is] a plan the city adopted to, as city officials have called it, reimagine policing and community safety. As part of it, community groups received grants to help make Charlotte safer. Robert Dawkins with Safe Coalition NC says the numbers show it’s a return on that investment but also a larger footprint of community organization.” (WFAE Charlotte)

“St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones is crediting an intervention program known as Cure Violence for helping to reduce the city’s homicides by more than 25% in 2021… The Chicago-based program trains people who live in areas with high crime rates to intervene in conflicts. The goal is to prevent disagreements from escalating to violent crime, and to provide social services such as job training to neighborhood residents.

Cure Violence staffers began operating in the Walnut Park, Wells-Goodfellow, Hamilton Heights and Dutchtown neighborhoods throughout the latter half of 2020, a year when 263 people were killed. Despite the pandemic, interrupters were able to intervene in more than 600 conflicts across the three operating areas. (Wells-Goodfellow and Hamilton Heights are counted as one operating area, though they are different neighborhoods.)

'Fifty-eight interruptions is really huge for us, for a small neighborhood,' said Mulugheta Teferi, chief of staff at the Urban League of St. Louis, which runs the Walnut Park site. 'Fifty-eight people could have been dead, if they were not interrupted. That’s how we look at it.'

Overall, homicides were down 26% in the city from 2020 to 2021. In four of the five Cure Violence locations, homicides dropped at a rate higher than the overall decrease: 42% in Hamilton Heights, 70%  in Wells-Goodfellow, 50% in Walnut Park East and 80% in Walnut Park West.” (St. Louis Public Radio)

Some of these cities have seen a decrease in police officers, just like in Minneapolis

In Dallas and Charlotte, local officials talked about their success despite the drop in officer head count, which is good, given that Mayor Frey has said hiring another 190 officers would be “a heavy lift”. 

“While crime did go down last year, Jennings said [the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department]  still has two major issues it faces: Juvenile crime and the hiring of new officers. CMPD has been among the agencies working to reduce crime at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools after several violent incidents at schools across the district. 

'When you start seeing that 13-year-olds and 12-year-olds are carrying firearms, that should be something that's unacceptable,' Jennings said. 'Not just from a law enforcement perspective but from a society perspective.'

Jennings also lamented the shortage of officers on the job, saying CMPD is down to around 200 officers at any given time. 

'Anywhere from 180 to 200 at some point, and if we started another class, it could drop drastically down to 150,' Jennings said. 'So it's kind of a moving target when you start talking about vacancy rates.'” (WCNC Charlotte)

“Council Member Cara Mendelsohn said the improvement comes despite having a smaller police force.

'Violent crime is up all over the country. Murders are up all over the country. And we’re glad to say here in the city of Dallas, things are in the opposite direction,' said Council Member Casey Thomas. 'We have even less officers than we had in 2019, 2020, and I know it’s from attrition, but to have these kind of results really. It’s not just in the data. I think we’re starting to feel it in the city. And so I just want to say, thank you. I know it’s been rough.' (DFW CBS Local)

“Jennings says the department has been up to 200 officers down. He says 2024 will be the most challenging year, since so many officers are expected to retire over the next few years. Jennings says the department has been aggressively trying to build that up. The department’s end-of-year report says a recruitment campaign yielded 2,300 applications and 135 new hires.” (WFAE Charlotte)

Getting guns off the streets has been a focus in every city

“One statistic that has jumped up is firearm arrests. There have been 334 gun-related arrests made by police officers thus far in 2021, compared to 263 in 2020.” (Boston Herald)

“'The operation, which began in June and involved dozens of law enforcement agencies, was designed to take guns off the streets and targeted violent people and violent areas of the county. Officials said the operation led to more than 3,300 felony arrests and over 1,200 guns recovered. Of the 249 murders in 2021, 202 were from guns. 'It starts and ends with guns,' Piquero said. 'The lethality of guns when they're used in altercations is much higher than a fist or a knife. So it's violent places, violent people and guns off the street.'” (NBC Miami)

“'Everything they do is intentional to make sure that we not only target that individual but target the firearms that they might be in possession of. And they’ve been very successful in their first full year of being able to do that.'” (WFAE Charlotte)

“Jennings said CMPD seized 33% more guns than 2021, translating to roughly 3,000 illegal guns being taken off the streets. Jennings created CMPD's gun suppression team, a unit that was created in 2021 with a focus on getting guns out of the hands of people who intend to commit crimes.” (WCNC)

Focused, smarter policing is often cited

Devoting resources to specific locations where crimes frequently occur and arresting specific individuals that are responsible for multiple violent crimes instead of targeting entire communities have been a major focus.

Focused and smarter policing examples include devoting resources to specific locations where crimes frequently occur and arresting specific individuals that are responsible for multiple violent crimes instead of targeting entire communities.

“​​In addition, the streets got safer as fewer people got arrested, according to police. The statement said that by keying on people 'driving the violence' and providing help to those who aren’t, police in 2021 arrested 3 percent fewer suspects than in 2020 and 50 percent fewer since 2016.” (Boston Globe)

Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia attributed the city’s breakthrough to 'a balanced approach that includes consultation with criminologists.' Garcia’s department focused more intently on hotbed pockets of crime within the city, increasing the police’s visible presence in those areas and increasing seizures of guns. At the same time, Garcia said, the department pulled back from arresting individuals for lower-level offenses. Robberies and aggravated assaults became particular focuses for law enforcement.” (The Texan)

“Garcia’s mandate was simple but not easy: Reduce violent crime. With just a few days left in 2021 -- and in a year when most big U.S. cities posted big increases in violence -- here’s where things stand in Dallas: Violent crime has dropped 9% over the previous year -- and 12% since Garcia’s prevention plan was implemented in early May. This year’s tally of 220 homicide victims is a 12% drop from the 250 in 2020. Garcia told me the department is every bit as proud of another statistic: 'You haven’t seen a spike in arrests.' In fact, arrests have gone down by almost 5%. 'That tells us we are targeting the right individuals -- not all individuals,' Garcia said. 'Our goal to be laser-focused on violent crime looks to be working.'” (Dallas Morning News)

“Police Chief Eddie Garcia, just months after taking office, put a violent crime reduction plan in action. It’s based on the theory that crime is concentrated in small areas throughout the city. Working with criminologists from UT San Antonio, it’s worked to identify some of those areas and figure out ways to address the issues there. The police department reports the city has had 28 fewer murder victims compared to this time last year. 'It’s a big deal what’s happening here in Dallas,' said council member Adam McGough.” (DFW CBS Local)

“He noted that homicides were down not just across Charlotte, but in specific areas that have been known as hotspots.” (WFAE Charlotte)

“The police homicide clearance rate rebounded to 55%, according to police, after dropping below 40% the past two years.    The chief, in part, credits moving the gang unit into the homicide division. 'So many of these instances require ‘on the scene intel’ development,' he said. 'We have recovered to pre-pandemic numbers and many cities have not.'” (Fox 2 St. Louis

“Jennings also credited a new de-escalation facility that opened last year for helping officers resolve situations peacefully, without further violence. Jennings said CMPD made changes to 35 internal policies last year, improving employee wellness and mental health.”  (WCNC Charlotte)

“'Beyond that, however, he says the police department has taken a different approach to their work this year. 'We’re really focused on a holistic approach to addressing this issue of gun violence,' Isom tells TIME. 'We’ve been trying to reduce low-level enforcement and focus on the high-level crimes… Deployment strategies for the St. Louis Police Department have also changed from last year. Officers are now being sent to areas where they know violence will likely occur, based on 'improved intelligence gathering,' Isom says. 'We’ve tried to be focused on the people who are actually committing violence and not cast a wide net amongst and the entire community.'” (Time Magazine on St. Louis)

Support for victims is key

Victim support can include counseling and help with funeral costs.

“This 'holistic approach,' according to Isom, includes supporting community-led initiatives that attempt to break the cycle of violence. And under new guidelines, when authorities come in contact with a victim of a violent crime, they try to have an advocate or a social worker reach out and help them with the trauma, fear, or anger they might be feeling.'” (Time Magazine on St. Louis)

“'I think the collaboration that we’re, we’re working with our federal partners, with the city, with the social services providers, has got to make a difference,' Deputy Chief Joseph Mabin, Kansas City, Mo. Police Dept., said. 'We have to review every week where we go in depth on each shooting and homicide that occurred in the previous weekend and have actual steps to follow up on for the following week.'

But, the department did say that its gang unit and their risk for retaliation messaging is making a big impact. 'It is a message that we typically will give to the family and friends of a victim following a violent act that has occurred,' Sergeant Anita Harris, KCPD, said. 'We’re going to ask them not to retaliate or take matters into their own hands. We typically ask them to cooperate with the investigation. And we try to offer them resources and services to get through a very difficult time that has occurred in their life. Officers are trained to make sure families have access to grief counseling and other services provided by organizations across the city. The programs can help with things like funeral needs to grief counseling.”  (Fox 4 KC)

Many police departments proactively reached out to the community to rebuild trust

“'Hopefully, it’s a trend and not just happenstance,' News4JAX crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson said. He said trust in law enforcement and equitable policing are key in checking crime. 'I think there’s been an effort by [the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office] to improve community relations,' Jefferson said.” (News 4 Jax)

“Community groups like MAD DADS are putting their focus on youth programs and employment programs with the goal of preventing crime before it starts. '[The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office] has done a better job. They have been reaching out to the community constantly saying that we need to do something about this, but the community has got to take a bigger role,' MAD DADS President Donal Foy said. 'We have got to as a community say enough is enough and we’re going to step forward and tell what we know.'” (First Coast News)

“And Isom says that the department is also continuing to work on developing its relationship with St. Louis residents directly impacted by gun violence. 'I think we’re doing a lot of the right things, the most important piece is how can we wrap the community more into this process,' Isom says.” (Time Magazine on St. Louis)