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National

Major Cities Fear Violent Summer As Shootings Increase

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

New York, Baltimore, Chicago and some other major cities have seen a rise of gun violence in recent months. And as summer approaches, Police Departments are worried that the problem could get worse. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reports.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: For the first time since the end of the 1990s, shootings have been up for two years straight in New York City.

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O'NEILL: We're struggling with homicides and shootings.

WANG: NYPD chief of department, James O'Neill, announced the latest stats yesterday. Overall, crime in the city is down, but shootings so far this year are up 20 percent compared to the same period in 2013.

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O'NEILL: When we're talking about murders and shootings, we're talking about people's lives. These aren't just numbers. And that's what our business is about - saving lives. We don't - we do not take this lightly.

WANG: Some other police departments aren't taking their latest numbers lightly either. In Chicago, shootings are up 25 percent compared to last year, in St. Louis, 39 percent and in Baltimore, 76 percent.

HEATHER MACDONALD: Well, nothing much else has changed except the atmosphere around policing over the last nine months.

WANG: Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute says the recent protests over the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police have brought more scrutiny onto police officers who, she says, are now more reluctant to engage in discretionary policing.

DANIEL WEBSTER: I think that's very speculative thinking right now. I think I'd want to see a lot more data and see a lot more consistency to try to connect these dots.

WANG: Daniel Webster is the director of the Center For Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University. He says it's too early to pinpoint exactly what's causing the recent uptick. The spikes in Baltimore, he says, began before Baltimore police arrested Freddie Gray.

WEBSTER: We were already on a pretty noteworthy upward trajectory, and that has most clearly escalated since that unrest.

WANG: Webster says past data does show that warmer weather usually brings increases in crime.

WEBSTER: With summer coming ahead, in any place where you're seeing a surge in gun violence like Baltimore, you have to be doubly or triply concerned.

WANG: One shooting, he says, can lead to another and another and potentially rage out of control. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.