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Hub's rise in deadly violence reflects disturbing US change

Boston recorded one of the bigger increases in homicides and nonfatal shootings in the nation since 2004, according to a report being released today by a policing think tank.

The city's 23 percent jump in homicides the last two years, when Boston's bloody toll reached 10-year highs, ranked 19th among 56 cities and counties, according to the Police Executive Research Forum, based in Washington, D.C .

Boston's 32 percent increase in aggravated assaults with a firearm over that same period was exceeded by only 11 other jurisdictions.

"This country has changed when it comes to violent crime . . . and it's not an aberration," said Chuck Wexler , the forum's executive director. "It's not a statistical blip. Boston really is in the forefront of what's going on in other cities."

Wexler said that 80,000 Americans have died because of gun violence in the past five years and that an additional 500,000 people have been injured. The forum said the rise is particularly disturbing because violent crime decreased dramatically during the late 1990s.

Boston's surge in violent crime was greater than in many other areas; total homicides across the 56 police jurisdictions increased by just 10 percent.

Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said yesterday that in part he blames the federal government, which has cut policing grants to Boston and other cities, for the sharp increase in gun violence.

"People have lost family members sometimes over and over again to this problem, and the cities are expected to deal with it on their own," Davis said in a phone interview. "These are real people being killed every day. The numbers are outrageous in this country."

Last week, Davis and other police chiefs, sheriffs, and school administrators met with US Senator John F. Kerry at Suffolk Law School to discuss the problem, the commissioner said.

"He's trying to put this back on the national agenda, but we haven't met with much success yet," said Davis, who is a forum board member.

Jack McDevitt, a Northeastern University criminologist, said the federal funding cuts have been particularly deep at the federal Community Oriented Policing Services program, which he said put 100,000 additional officers on US streets during the 1990s.

"They're not hiring police officers anymore and they're not supporting programs anymore," McDevitt said.

Suzanne Smalley can be reached at