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Houston Mayor Says Hurricane Katrina Evacuees Increased City Murders

The number of murders last year in Houston hit a 12-year high and increased by 13.5 percent over 2005, figures the mayor attributes in part to the arrival of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina.

Houston had 379 homicides in 2006. That was the most since 1994, when 419 murders were reported, police said. In 2005, the city had 334 homicides.

Mayor Bill White pointed to Hurricane Katrina evacuees from New Orleans as one reason for the increase.

"We did have a surge in population from a city where the homicide rate is eight times the national average," White said.

Houston's population increased by 148,000 people in 2006, many of them Katrina evacuees, according to the city's planning department.

The swelling population helped keep Houston's homicide rate relatively steady, rising from 16.33 victims per 100,000 residents in 2005 to 17.24 victims in 2006. Nationally, the murder rate increased by 1.4 percent last year, according to FBI figures.

Some experts disagreed with White's characterization, pointing to national trends indicating rising rates of violent crime.

"It's not as if Houston's unique," said Jim Lynch, a criminology professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. "There are other cities experiencing this."

Other types of violent crime dropped in Houston in 2006, police said. Robberies, rapes, aggravated assaults, burglaries, thefts and stolen cars dropped between 2 percent and 9 percent when compared with 2005 statistics.