Violent crime dropped sharply in South Carolina's largest cities during the first half of 2013, outpacing a broad decline across the nation, according to the FBI.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics show that violent crime dropped by more than a third in Charleston, by nearly that much in Columbia, and by 11 percent in North Charleston, compared with the first six months of 2012.

"We're very pleased," said Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen. "We've had about a six- or seven-year trend down from where we were."

In North Charleston, the early drop in 2013 crime came as the city was making the transition to a new police chief, Eddie Driggers. In 2012, violent crime in North Charleston had ticked up, following a sharp multi-year decline.

"While we are encouraged by the drop in violent crime shown by these statistics, we are never satisfied with crime in our community and we use this report, among other tools, to evaluate our programs and strategies for effectiveness in reducing crime," said North Charleston Deputy Chief Scott Deckard in an emailed statement.

Mullen said that in Charleston, building trust between officers and community residents while focusing on crime "hot spots" has been a key to the city's success.

"We've still got a lot of work to do in that area, but we've had some significant advances," he said.

North Charleston also has made relationship-building with city residents a primary goal, Deckard's statement said.

"The strength and perseverance of our community and police department is not reflected in these numbers, but is measured by the safety and quality of life that our citizens and visitors experience," he said.

While some cities, familiar with their own crime reporting, already have celebrated a full-year drop in violent crime for 2013, the FBI statistics for just the first half of that year adds perspective by laying out regional and national trends.

Across the South, violent crime - murder, rape, aggravated assault and robbery - dropped 5.9 percent during the first half of 2013, better than the nationwide decline of 5.4 percent. The declines seen in the Charleston metro area and in Columbia were much larger.

"We have really looked at data and looked at where our hot spots have been, and focused on those areas that had chronic crime problems," Mullen said. "The officers really responded well to that, and it's made those communities a lot better."

Property crime also declined nationally during the first half of 2013, with the only regional exception being auto thefts in the West. Locally, burglaries and vehicle theft declined in Charleston, but increased in North Charleston.

North Charleston, with a smaller population than Charleston, had about three times the number of violent crimes and 1,255 more property crimes than its generally more affluent southern neighbor.

Over the long term, violent crime has greatly declined across the U.S., falling from 1.9 million violent crimes in 1993 to 1.2 million in 2012. Except for small upticks in 2005 and 2006, it's been a steady drop over two decades.

In 2012, the last year for which full-year FBI statistics are available, violent crime struck 387 out of every 100,000 people in the U.S., compared with 747 in 1993.

Property crime has declined nationally as well, though not by such a great extent.

On the local level, crime statistics are more volatile, because a few dozen violent crimes are enough to create a large percentage change in crime, particularly over a short period of time such as six months.

Charleston's 35 percent drop in violent crime, for example, means there were 58 fewer violent crimes during the first half of 2013. Mullen said that for the full year, violent crime fell about 17 percent.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552.