Murders down this year

Milwaukee residents can sleep a little easier at night despite some potentially upsetting news from the FBI.

Although the agency's annual report on crime indicates that murders nationwide are up for the fourth year in a row, the Milwaukee Police Department is reporting that homicides in Milwaukee are down from last year.

At this time last year, 88 murders had occurred in Milwaukee, according to MPD Public Information Officer Sgt. Kenneth Harris. But since Jan. 1, only 70 have occurred so far this year, Harris said.

MPD Public Information Officer Ken Henning said the drop in homicides can be attributed to more police officers on the streets and a general downturn in all crimes except for car theft in Milwaukee.

Harris also attributed the decline in the murder rate to an increased cooperation between the police and the community.

"It's citizens, it's the police, it's neighborhoods, it's families," Harris said. "The police by themselves can't reduce crime and the neighborhoods can't reduce crime on their own either. It's a partnership."

Carlene Orig, press secretary for Mayor Tom Barrett, also gave increased community involvement as a reason for the decrease in the murder rate. She added the reinstatement of MPD's Gangs and Violent Crime Unit and the "excellent working relationship" between Barrett and Police Chief Nan Hegerty to the list of factors as well.

Barrett has made crime reduction a major effort in his administration, Orig said, and has asked Hegerty to call him every time a murder occurs in Milwaukee so he can have a constantly updated concept of the city's murder rate.

The murder rate the MPD is referring to is that of the City of Milwaukee only and does not represent the greater Milwaukee metro area. Murders that occur in the suburbs, such as the Oct. 24 slaying of two Arby's employees in West Milwaukee, are not included in Milwaukee's murder rate.

The FBI crime report shows that 109 murders were committed last year in Milwaukee, but Henning said he thought the number was actually 106. He could not offer an explanation for the discrepancy.

The most recent murder in Milwaukee occurred Wednesday morning on the north side of the city where one individual was killed, according to Harris.

The FBI report reveals that nationwide, 16.5 murders were committed in 2003 — a 1.7 percent increase from 2002.

The FBI report also shows that the national murder rate is 29 percent lower than it was 10 years ago. Also, overall violent crime, which includes rape, manslaughter and robbery, fell 3 percent from 2002.

Mary Victoria Pyne, a spokeswoman for the FBI, said the FBI's intent in the report was to collect statistics. She could not comment on why the murder rate is rising while other rates of violent crime are dropping.

Associate Professor of Political Science John McAdams said he couldn't explain the uptick in the nationwide murder rate either, but said drug use, the state of the economy and the success of the state in catching and prosecuting murderers may influence murder rates.

McAdams said the proportion of the population made up by males ages 15 to 25 may have an impact on murder rates, since that age group is "inclined to crime."