“We would get 19 or 25 homicides in a weekend, years ago,” said Molina, who’s been investigating homicides and other serious crimes for 18 years.
These days, there are far more dangerous cities in the world. The vast majority are in Latin America and the Caribbean, where the cocaine trade, easy access to illegal arms and weak judiciaries help fuel the violence.
No. 1 is San Pedro Sula in Honduras, which recorded a homicide rate of 169 per 100,000 in 2012. Of the 50 cities with the highest homicide rates, 15 are in Brazil. Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, records far more homicides than any other city in the world, nearly 4,000 in 2012.
Medellin was once in a league of its own, racking up 6,349 killings in 1991, or 380 murders per 100,000 people, when the drug kingpin Pablo Escobar had put a bounty on the heads of police officers and vowed to bring the city to its knees. The homicide rate has since fallen by 80 percent, making this city a model that attracts politicians and police officials who come from as far away as South Africa, Rio de Janeiro and Washington to see how officials engineered the transformation.
And yet, as Molina pointed out, slow nights in Medellin can be fleeting.
“When we get to seven murders in a day, we say, ‘Oh God, what’s happening?’ ” she said.
As May wound down, the city already had 470 slayings for the year, giving it a homicide rate that still was among the highest in Colombia and ranked among the 30 most violent cities in the world.
‘This is our headache’
As police radios crackled in the background, Maj. Hector Gutierrez, head of the police investigative team in the city, looked over crime reports on a recent night. Muggings were down in the city over the year before, he noted, and so were car thefts. Motorcycle thefts were way up.
But he was worried about murders, which he said were stubbornly high.
“This is our headache,” he said, and pointed to the Candelaria district on a map, where killings were way up over 2012. “So what are we doing? We’re hitting the Candelaria hard — the extortion business, the street crime.”
Deploying more police officers to problem districts has worked here and in other cities as far away as New York. Medellin’s anti-crime formula, though, included a range of programs that improved life in problem neighborhoods and made the city more inclusive for the once-forgotten poor, said Mayor Anibal Gaviria, who called the changes here “a metamorphosis.”
New schools were built and old ones remodeled in the city’s so-called Comunas, the toughest districts. New libraries, lauded for their modernist architecture, also went up alongside new parks and public squares.