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Overall crime down but murder up by 30 percent so far this year in New Orleans

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NEW ORLEANS — New police department figures show that overall crime dropped more than 8 percent in New Orleans in the first half of the year when compared to the same period in 2014 — but, the numbers of murders and rapes were up sharply.

There were 92 murders in New Orleans from January through June, according to figures released Friday. That is a 30 percent increase over the 71 murders in the first half of 2014.

Rape increased from 98 to 152, a spike of more than 55 percent. Police chief Michael Harrison says more rape victims are coming forward to report the crime after an overhaul of the police sex crimes unit. The changes came after a city inspector general's report that was highly critical of the unit.

That November report said five detectives failed to do substantial investigation of more than 1,000 sex crimes and child abuse cases.

Changes in personnel and policy followed.

"We're confident that those changes are making citizens more comfortable in reporting that to us," Harrison said in remarks outside police headquarters.

Robberies, assaults, burglaries and thefts, including automobile thefts, were all down for the first half of 2015, according to the figures.

The increase in this year's murder rate, if it continues in the second half of the year, could mean an end to falling homicide numbers after three straight years of declines; the spike has drawn attention to the depleted police force.

Harrison noted recent initiatives — including pay raises and recruiting drives — that he believes may have slowed or halted an attrition rate that saw more officers leaving than joining the force over the past several years.

"We're still seeing retirements but fewer people are leaving for other reasons," Harrison said. He said he was uncertain yet whether the city will soon see a net gain in police officers.

New Orleans had 150 murders in 2014, down from 156 the previous year. The 2014 total was the lowest in the city since 1985, when 152 people were murdered.

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