Minneapolis police say it's thanks to their efforts, but other experts say it's not that easy to explain.
During the first 110 days of 2007, Minneapolis had 18 homicides.
In the same period this year -- ending Monday -- the city had three.
Those and other figures released Tuesday by the Police Department seem to show that a recent spike in economic insecurity over mortgage foreclosures and job losses has not translated into a spike in crime.
In fact, the figures so far starkly show the opposite.
Overall, violent crime dropped more than 25 percent since 2007 and nearly 18 percent in the past year alone. Even property crimes have fallen 11 percent to date, compared with the same period last year, and 23 percent since 2007.
City officials credited top-notch police work and collaboration with neighborhood groups as big factors in the reduction.
But others say the decline is part of a national trend fueled by other factors, such as an economic surge in the 1990s. In fact, some experts suggest there simply may be a longer lag than people expect between changes in economic fortunes and changes in crime.
In Minneapolis the number of rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults has fallen since the beginning of the year, compared with the same period over the last two years, but those drops were less steep.
"This is fantastic, the result of a community-wide effort to make this a safe place to call home," Mayor R.T. Rybak said. "But we've still got a long way to go." He credited the fall in violent crime to closer working relationships between police and neighborhood community organizations.
Police Chief Tim Dolan said crime has dropped for three years, a trend he attributed to increased "production" of arrests, citations and convictions, more rapid responses to gang incidents, quality intelligence and proactive police work. He praised the entire justice system for advances in dealing with juvenile crime.
"We're doing things smarter and better throughout the system," Dolan said.
He said that crime has risen in other cities with significant numbers of mortgage foreclosures, but not in Minneapolis, even though foreclosures have been widespread in some areas. He cited efforts by the city's Inspections Department to maintain the properties and the vigilance of neighbors in watching empty homes.
But other authorities on crime said policing techniques have little to do with the current trend.
"A three-year drop is meaningless," said former Minneapolis police chief Tony Bouza. "No one had a more aggressive on-the-street operation than I did," he said, but crime rose anyway.
"In criminological scholarship there are always debates about what is responsible for crime booms and crime busts," said Prof. Joachim J. Savelsberg, who specializes in criminology at the University of Minnesota. "Like the police chief [Dolan], said, criminal justice strategies may play a role."
But large social forces such as economic growth caused the drop in crime since the mid-1990s, he said, providing job opportunities, including for the underprivileged.
Property crimes have increased in recent months in some areas of the country, he said. "The worse the economic crisis gets -- and we don't know how bad it will go -- the more challenges we might face in the criminal justice area."
Researcher John Wareham contributed to this report. Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184 RandyFurst • 612-673-7382