By Daniel Borunda \ El Paso Times
The number of killings in Juárez dropped in May, marking the third consecutive month of a decline in the rate of deaths, raising hopes tempered with caution in one of Mexico's most dangerous cities.
There were 152 homicides last month in Juárez compared with 171 in April and 183 in March, according to unofficial numbers reported Wednesday by the Chihuahua attorney general's office.
Observers point out that the bloodshed is still at astronomical levels as shootings, murders and grisly mutilations continue in Juárez.
By comparison, there were about 300 homicides in all 2007 prior to the eruption of a turf war between the Juárez and Sinaloa drug cartels in 2008.
The drop in murders was recently praised by Mexican President Felipe Calderón and Juárez Mayor Héctor Murguía, who last week declared that Juárez was no longer the most dangerous city in Mexico.
Murguía was unavailable for comment Wednesday. It is unclear what cities he considered to be more dangerous.
The reason for the decline in homicides is also unclear though authorities have said they believe the majority are due to organized crime.
As the drug cartel war has raged, there have been months when the number of slayings declined only to jump later. May had the fewest homicides in a month since February 2010 when 147 were reported.
"Just because it went down, there is no reason to celebrate," said filmmaker Charlie Minn, who directed the documentary "8 Murders a Day" about the violence in Juárez.
"It's like saying I lost a basketball game by six and the next day you lose by four and you say, 'Hey I'm getting better,' " Minn said. "I don't want people to get complacent."
Minn pointed out that narco-violence has spread throughout Mexico. Authorities have said the violence is due to various conflicts among drug cartels.
The Mexican newspaper Milenio reported that in April there were 1,400 killings in Mexico, which was the highest monthly death toll since August 2010 when 1,322 people were killed.
"The spillover has gone south," Minn said. "It has gone to Guerrero and to other states."
Minn and Charles Bowden, author of "Murder City" and "El Sicario," will have a signing at 7 p.m. today at the Barnes & Noble bookstore on Sunland Park Drive.
Mexican law enforcement officials credit the decline in homicides in Juárez to increased patrols, arrests and residents more willing to report crimes.
"The problem is not 100 percent solved," Alejandro Poiré Romero, Mexico's national security spokesman, said during Calderón's latest visit in Juárez. "But it is without a doubt that the collaboration between federal authorities, local authorities and reports by citizens has started a cycle to rebuild the confidence that will bear the fruit desired by all Juarenses.
"All the criminal organizations that operate in this city have been weakened," Poiré said.
Mexican federal police and the army continue to assist local and state police in Juárez despite allegations of human-rights violations.
Poiré pointed out the Mexican army has seized more than 2,000 firearms, nearly 70 tons of marijuana and made more than 1,400 arrests since soldiers were deployed to Juárez in March 2008.
Besides slayings, Juárez residents also have to deal with carjackings, kidnappings for ransom and extortion from criminals charging a "quota," or protection fee, from all types of businesses, including taxi stands, beauty shops and restaurants.
Juárez police spokesman Adrian Sanchez said the city's 2,300-member police force is working to ensure homicides and other crimes continue to drop.
"There are more patrols on the streets and a greater police presence in all districts, especially in the downtown area," Sanchez said. On Monday, authorities launched an operation targeting extortionists by adding 120 officers to regular patrols downtown.
The fight against crime can be deadly -- 15 Juárez police officers have been killed this year, Sanchez said.