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The Chronicle‘s Rosanna Ruiz reports that the FBI has released official crime figures detailing Houston’s surge in murders in 2006:

Houston’s homicide rate surpassed Dallas’ in 2006 for the first time in more than a decade and is now the second-highest among the nation’s largest cities, according to figures released Monday by the FBI.

Houstonians were killed at a rate of 18.2 per 100,000 residents last year, a number that had gone unmatched since 1995 when the FBI began posting crime statistics online. Dallas’ homicide rate was higher than Houston’s in all of the previous 11 years.

The two cities’ homicide rates were almost identical last year. But Houston’s rate increased nearly 12 percent as Dallas’ rate declined more than 8 percent. Houston has seen an uptick in homicides since more than 100,000 Louisiana residents fled to the city after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Only Philadelphia now has a higher homicide rate than Houston on the list of the nation’s 10 largest cities. San Antonio ranks seventh on the list, while Dallas is fifth.

Recall back at the start of the year, when the Chronicle‘s Peggy O’Hare wrote the following:

In 2006, the Houston Police Department recorded 379 homicides as of Dec. 31, a 13.5 percent increase from the 334 homicides recorded in 2005. The 2006 total is the highest since 1994, when 419 homicides were reported in the city.

It was the second consecutive year for a steep jump, although the increase was not nearly as alarming as the 23 percent rise in homicides seen at the end of 2005.

Despite the upward trend, Houston’s homicide rate per 100,000 residents hardly changed at all. That number increased from 16.33 in 2005 to 17.24 in 2006.

Apparently, the FBI didn’t use the population figures preferred by O’Hare (and the White administration’s communications team), partly explaining the disparity (but not O’Hare’s editorializing).

We do wish the Chronicle could decide how it wants to interpret numbers that can only be considered bad.

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Kevin Whited is co-founder and publisher of blogHOUSTON. Follow him on twitter: @PubliusTX