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North Charleston's push to stamp out violence has helped the city distance itself from its infamous former ranking as one of the 10 most dangerous cities in the nation.
The city, which rounded out the top 10 in 2007, plummeted from that undesirable position for the second year in a row, to the 63rd most dangerous spot in 2009, according to the most recent report issued by Washington-based CQ Press. That is 41 spots down from its No. 22 ranking the previous year.
The city of Charleston also showed marked progress in the CQ Press rankings, dropping 79 places to No. 213 on the list of most dangerous cities.
The annual rankings, which rate 400 cities, have drawn repeated criticism in law enforcement circles for what some consider to be faulty methodology. The rankings are based on per-capita rates for homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and auto theft.
Still, city officials are pleased by the direction North Charleston's rank has been heading.
North Charleston once rubbed shoulders on the list with the likes of such danger capitals as Compton, Calif., and Flint, Mich. It's now keeping company with the more genteel Hammond, Ind., and Fayetteville, N.C. The city sits just two spots up from Columbia.
North Charleston Police Chief Jon Zumalt said violent crime has dropped
33 percent in the city since 2006, when the city peaked on the dangerous cities list at No. 7. Homicides, alone, are down 61 percent over that span. The city continues to improve, he said, and North Charleston is on pace this year for a 14 percent drop in violent crime from 2009.
"We're very thankful," he said. "This is all about the vitality and health of our community."
In recent years, North Charleston has made a concerted effort to tune up its crime-fighting tactics. Police have beefed up crime analysis, expanded community policing, embedded officers in troubled neighborhoods and worked to build relationships with the residents they serve.
Last year, North Charleston, Charleston and Mount Pleasant each reported more than a 25 percent drop in violent crimes, more than four times the average for the rest of the state.
From the Lowcountry, only North Charleston and Charleston made the CQ Press list, which rates cities with at least 75,000 residents.
St. Louis overtook Camden, N.J., as the nation's most dangerous city in 2009, according to the CQ Press study. Colonie, N.Y., topped the safest city list for the second year with the lowest crime rate ranking in the nation, the study noted.
North Charleston's ranking on the most dangerous cities list:
2009 / 63
2008 / 22
2007 / 10
2006 / 7
2005 / 20