Evanston police say that despite a dramatic increase in homicides this year, the overall crime rate in the city has continued to decline.

The city recorded its seventh homicide of the year Tuesday night, compared to just one homicide in all of 2009 and an average of two or three per year over the past decade or more.

Police Chief Richard Eddington says part of the increase this year is due to a change in the way the Federal Bureau of Investigation expects local police agencies to count crime.

Among the changes, Eddington says, are that now any unexplained drug overdose death must be counted as a homicide — and two of the homicides in the city this year fall into that category. Now, the chief said, the victim of a drug overdose would have to leave a suicide note for the death not to be counted as a homicide.

Overall, major crime in the city is down 13 percent for the year so far, the chief says.

He said that the department is making substantial strides in reducing the types of crime that police can anticipate and change deployment strategies to respond to.

As a result of those efforts, major crime declined 31 percent in November, with a drop in burglaries from 54 to 34 incidents.

“If you’re one of the 34 people who got burgled, that’s still a big problem, but the reduction is significant, especially if you look at the same time period in adjacent jurisdictions, where burglaries continued at a pretty substantial pace,” Eddington said.

“Between Halloween and Jan. 1, there’s usually an incredible spike in burglaries, and we’ve undertaken deployment strategies to address it,” he added.

As for the homicides, Eddington said that, setting aside the two most recent incidents and speaking generally, “there’s always been a drug-related angle to these situations.

“My comment to many community groups I speak to is that if you’re engaged in buying and selling drugs, your chances of being a homicide victim go up exponentially,” the chief said.

He noted that as has been the case recently in many other communities, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get arrests in homicide cases, because it seems witnesses and others with knowledge about the incidents are less willing to cooperate with police.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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