WASHINGTON Big city police chiefs on Monday met to discuss rising U.S. crime rates, especially homicides, and blamed repeat offenders, drugs and guns with larger magazines for part of the increase.
The meeting of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, attended also by some prosecutors, came as cities face a recent upturn in violent crime after it fell starting in the 1990s to half-century lows in 2013.
"We came together to help identify ways to interrupt this violent trend and ensure that our cities continue to thrive,"
the association's president, J. Thomas Manger, said at a news conference.
Homicides in 35 big cities are up 19 percent this year on average, according to an association survey. Sixty-two percent of cities reported increases in non-fatal shootings.
Manger said repeat offenders who have no education or job skills are behind most violent crimes. They should be kept behind bars, while reforms can provide alternatives to prison for low-level offenders, he said.
Police are finding more rounds are being fired from more guns during shootings, meaning more people are hit, Manger said. The association, which groups 66 police chiefs or sheriffs, called for increased penalties for gun crimes and for shooters using high-capacity magazines.
The association called for more accurate field tests for synthetic drugs that have been linked to violent behavior.
Manger, who is the police chief in Montgomery County, Maryland, repeated a call by the chiefs for a national commission to review the criminal justice system. The last was done in 1965.
The association said increased cooperation among police, prosecutors and community organizations was essential to reducing crime.
Manger said there was no sign that the crime upturn had come from police "backing off" after protests over the deaths of unarmed black men by officers in Missouri, New York and elsewhere.
Among U.S. cities, Washington has recorded 87 homicides this year, up from 69 in the same period last year. Milwaukee posted 74 homicides in the first half of 2015, more than double the number from the same period in 2014.
Baltimore had 45 homicides in July, the highest monthly total since 1972. The rise follows rioting in April over the death of a black man injured in police custody.
Ten federal agents are joining the Baltimore homicide unit, and the focus of police now is on "highly motivated, violent repeat offenders," interim Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis told a news conference.
(Additional reporting by Donna Owens in Baltimore; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Eric Beech)