N.O. no longer America’s murder capital

New Orleans has had the unfortunate distinction of being America’s most murderous city off and on for much of the last two decades, wearing that unwanted crown for the past few years.

But as the online newsroom The Lens noted this week, the Crescent City appears to have ceded the 2012 title. In fact, New Orleans has slid all the way to No. 3, behind Detroit and Flint, Mich., according to the FBI’s recently released Crime in the United States report for 2012.

The report shows Flint with a per-capita murder rate of 62.0 per 100,000 people, and Detroit with a rate of 54.5. New Orleans’ rate was 53.2. That was a drop from the rate of 57.6 murders New Orleans recorded in 2011, when it was America’s murder capital.

The rate is calculated by dividing the number of murders in a city by its population.

New Orleans’ slight improvement last year owed to two factors: a small drop in the number of murders, from 200 to 193; and a slight increase in population, from 346,974 to 362,874.

Detroit and Flint, meanwhile, each saw homicides increase as the number of people living in those cities dropped, boosting each city’s murder rate.

The news comes amid evidence of a steeper reduction in the number of murders in the Crescent City. New Orleans recorded 76 murders in the first half of 2013, a drop of more than 20 percent as compared with recent years. Were the pace to hold, the city would see 152 murders this year, which in turn would reduce the murder rate to about 41 per 100,000. Assuming New Orleans’ population continues to trickle upwards, the number could tick down a bit further.

That would be the lowest number of murders in decades, and the lowest per-capita rate in any year over that span save 1999, when New Orleans’s murder rate dipped all the way down to about 32 murders per 100,000.

While city officials and crime observers are greeting the trend lines with cautious optimism, they note that it’s too early to conclude the murder rate is even falling. And even if it is, New Orleans still has a ways to go before it finds itself in the company of most American cities.

Even if the reductions seen so far in 2013 hold up, New Orleans will likely remain No. 3 on the list of America’s most murderous cities this year. That’s because New Orleans, Flint and Detroit have been outliers for years, annually posting homicide rates that far exceed any of their peers.

In 2012, for instance, Jackson, Miss., had the No. 4 murder rate in the country, but its rate of 35.8 murders per 100,000 people was about a third lower than New Orleans’ rate. There are a handful of cities with rates comparable to Jackson’s, including St. Louis, at 35.5 murders per 100,000 people; Baltimore, at 35.0; Newark, N.J., at 34.1; Oakland, Calif., at 31.5; Birmingham, Ala., at 31.4; and Baton Rouge, at 28.5.