El Salvador officials say homicides down sharply last month

El Salvador officials say the number of homicides in the Central American country dropped by nearly half in September from the same month of 2015.

National police director Howard Cotto says there were 344 killings in September, compared to 685 the previous September. He said Monday that the September figures represented a 25 percent decrease from the homicide rate in August.

In 2015, gang violence pushed El Salvador's homicide rate to 103 killings for every 100,000 residents.

Cotto says the number of police shootouts with gang members has increased, from 378 in the first nine months of 2015 to 469 so far this year. The government has sought to crack down on the gangs with increased patrols.